Page last updated at 16:47 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

EU split on Congo troop mission

Congolese soldiers control traffic on the road linked to the rebel region on 7 December 2008
Congo's government agreed to long-standing rebel demand for talks

European foreign ministers are divided over calls to send troops to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

Belgium urged the deployment of a "bridging" force but other members of the bloc were lukewarm on the idea.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the EU on Friday to send in troops until UN reinforcements arrive.

The Brussels meeting came as the first direct talks between representatives of the Congolese government and CNDP rebels were held in Kenya.

Opening Monday's discussions in Nairobi, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said the crisis in eastern Congo was "a scar on Africa".

And Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said before the talks got underway: "Please don't let Africa down. Don't let your country down. Let this be the beginning of the end."

It seems European leaders believe daily horrors in eastern Congo are acceptable
Lotte Leicht
Human Rights Watch

But the BBC's Peter Greste in the Kenyan capital says expectations for the talks are low and wider negotiations involving many of the other armed groups in the region will be needed.

About 20 armed groups were asked to join the meeting, but only representatives of Gen Laurent Nkunda's CNDP faction turned up and the two delegations met behind closed doors.

Until now the government in Kinshasa has treated the CNDP - which stands for National Congress for the Defence of the People - as just another armed rebel group.

Neither DR Congo President Joseph Kabila nor Gen Nkunda is present at the meeting.

But the fact it is taking place at all is a tacit acknowledgement of the CNDP's military dominance in the region, says our correspondent.

 child pulls containers filled with water at Kibati refugee camp on 7 December 2008
The fighting in eastern Congo has sparked a humanitarian crisis

The fighting in eastern Congo has displaced some 250,000 people since August, and the rebels have the North Kivu province capital of Goma surrounded.

At Monday's meeting in Brussels, EU foreign ministers took no decision and asked the European Commission to prepare a response to the UN secretary general.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said ministers would discuss Mr Ban's appeal, but added: "Let me also underline that the situation on the ground is getting slightly better, and politically also."

But non-governmental organisations poured scorn on any suggestion things in eastern DR Congo were improving, saying rape, murder and pillage was still rife in the region.

'Situation is dramatic'

The 27-nation EU has so far been reluctant to commit forces to the Congo to back a 17,000-strong UN force, Monuc, already on the ground.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said before the discussions: "It will take four to six months before the additional troops for Monuc will arrive and the humanitarian situation is dramatic over there."

Belgium has been the most outspoken European country in appealing for help for DR Congo, its former colony.

UN peacekeepers in the DR Congo
CNDP: Gen Nkunda's Tutsi rebels - 6,000 fighters
FDLR: Rwandan Hutus - 6,000-7,000
Mai Mai: pro-government militia - 3,500
Monuc: UN peacekeepers - 6,000 in North Kivu, including about 1,000 in Goma (17,000 nationwide)
DRC army - 90,000 (nationwide)
Source: UN, military experts
But Germany and Britain are against sending an EU force.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said European countries that wanted to send troops should do so through the UN and not by an EU mission.

"The first port of call is to contribute to the UN mission," he said.

Spain and Italy were hesitant to answer a Belgian request to lead a mission.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said while his country could not send troops it could help pay for military transport for an EU force.

But Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said: "If we don't send them to Congo, where are we going to send them?"

Reacting to the talks, Lotte Leicht, of US-based Human Rights Watch, said: "By any normal standard, this is a crisis, but it seems European leaders believe such daily horrors in eastern Congo are acceptable and require no immediate intervention."

Gen Nkunda says he is protecting his Congolese Tutsi community from attack by leaders of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

In last year's Nairobi agreement, the FDLR Hutu rebel forces - estimated to number more than 6,000 - were meant to have been disarmed by the end of August.

That deadline was missed and Gen Nkunda's forces resumed fighting.


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