Page last updated at 17:05 GMT, Saturday, 1 November 2008

UK troops 'will not go to Congo'

David Miliband
Mr Miliband is in DR Congo and is planning to visit Rwanda

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said British troops will not be sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr Miliband said there are 17,000 UN troops in the country and UK soldiers would not join them "at the moment".

He was speaking from the African country where he and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner are attending crisis talks.

Earlier, Foreign Office minister Lord Malloch-Brown told the BBC that sending British troops there may be an option.

Lord Malloch-Brown had warned British soldiers could be sent if diplomacy could not resolve fighting between the country's government and rebel forces.

But Mr Miliband said: "We're not at the moment looking at sending British troops to join the UN force.

"What we do need to do is make sure these [UN] troops are properly deployed in the regions that are under the greatest stress so that the humanitarian aid can get in.

"But we also know that while humanitarian aid depends on security... security depends on a proper political process."

Earlier Lord Malloch-Brown, the UK Minister for Africa, had told the BBC's Today programme the UK and other European powers had to get involved if no solution was in sight.

He said that contingency plans were being drawn up for the deployment of an EU force to bolster United Nations peacekeepers.

He said: "We have certainly got to have it as an option which is developed and on the table if we need it.

"The first line of call on this should be the deployment of the UN's own troops from elsewhere in the country.

"But we have got to have plans. If everything else fails we cannot stand back and watch violence erupt.

A tense ceasefire is holding in the eastern city of Goma, from which thousands of people fled as rebels advanced on Wednesday.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Shame on all world politicians for allowing this to carry on for so long. Every human being should not live in fear.
John Lee Sullivan, Aylesbury

But the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says it has credible reports that camps sheltering 50,000 displaced people in the eastern DR Congo have been destroyed.

Rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda says he is fighting to protect his Tutsi community from attack by Rwandan Hutu rebels, some of whom are accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

It has been alleged that the Rwandan government has given him some support, which it strongly denies.

Mr Miliband and Mr Kouchner have arrived in Goma in the east of the country and will then travel onwards to Kigali for discussions with Rwandan leader Paul Kagame.

The European Union has been trying to bring the two leaders together.

The prime minister said he had asked Mr Miliband to go to the country and was hopeful the diplomatic efforts to ease the crisis will "make progress".

He said: "My worry is about the thousands of people who have been displaced at the moment by the violence which is taking place.

"That is why it is essential it ends immediately. There is only a political solution to this by discussion, not by military means."

Mourners cry near the bodies of two women killed during violence in Goma, 30 October, 2008
Killings, rapes and looting have been reported around Goma

He said he would continue to monitor the situation but felt it was essential for the country leaders to "return to the negotiating table".

Alpha Sankoh from ActionAid said the presence of Mr Miliband in the country was welcome.

He said: "The foreign secretary must also use his influence to ensure UN peacekeeping forces protect civilians, especially women and children, and guarantee safe passage for humanitarian workers."

Oxfam has removed its international staff from Goma as a "precautionary measure" and Save the Children had evacuated most of its North Kivu province because their lives were threatened.

However it said a small team, including health and nutrition experts, was back in the city and making an emergency assessment of the needs of the displaced there.

Aid agencies say the situation in and around Goma remained highly volatile with access to those in need extremely difficult.



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