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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 March 2006, 12:57 GMT
EU delays DR Congo decision
UN peacekeeping troops in DRC
The request for more troops has come from the UN
European defence ministers have put off a decision on sending peacekeeping troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of elections there in June.

Ministers meeting in Austria called on EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to travel to the country to confirm what was required.

The UN, which has 16,000 peacekeepers in the country, has asked the EU to supply hundreds of extra troops.

But the EU nations have struggled to agree on the make-up of the force.

Complex operation

After the two-hour meeting in Innsbruck, German Defence Minister Franz-Josef Jung said: "We were all in agreement that EU representative Solana should go to Kinshasa soon to firm up details of what is needed."

Mr Solana had previously indicated Germany might lead the mission, but Mr Jung said there would have to be a UN mandate and the agreement of the German parliament.

UN peacekeeping troops in DRC
UN peacekeepers have been in Congo since 2000

British Defence Secretary John Reid said before the talks: "There is willingness in Europe to respond and on this occasion it's probable that our French and German colleagues will be in the lead on that."

Diplomats have also suggested contributions could come from Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Austria and Poland.

Analysts say the EU has been struggling since January to come to a decision on the force for what would be a risky operation.

The elections will be the biggest and most complex the UN has ever supported.

The UN head of peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, began a 10-day visit to the country on Tuesday.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Mark Doyle says this is a long visit for such a senior official, but one which reflects the importance of the UN's most expensive peacekeeping operation.

Most of the peacekeepers currently serving the UN in DR Congo are from developing countries.

One senior UN official in Congo said European troops would represent a more effective deterrent to any faction that wanted to disrupt the elections.

At its height a few years ago, the war in DR Congo involved the armies of at least six countries backing various local factions.

Following a peace agreement, the UN has encouraged the foreign armies to leave, but rebellions in the east of the country are still causing humanitarian crises.

In one eastern village alone, in the province of Ituri, the UN says 8,000 people are being held by rebels as human shields; in the province of Katanga, another rebellion has broken out.

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