Defence

  • African Union soldier in Bangui airport, where up to 120,000 people are taking shelter (Photo: US Army Africa)

EU countries to send soldiers to Bangui

20.01.14 @ 16:21

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU countries have agreed to send a joint force to protect refugees at Bangui airport in the Central African Republican (CAR).

They said in Brussels on Monday (20 January) that they reached "political agreement” to go ahead, but require a mandate from the UN Security Council (UNSC) before sending troops.

They noted the “Eufor” mission is to last six months and that an EU operations centre in Larissa, Greece, will do detailed planning in line with Greece's current EU chairmanship.

EU diplomats have indicated the force will comprise some 500 men and is to deploy “at the end of February.”

It is unclear at this stage who is to contribute troops, but Germany and Ireland have indicated they have other commitments, while Estonia has indicated it will send soldiers.

Bangui airport is currently home to up to 120,000 refugees, who are fleeing a sectarian conflict which began in 2012.

The EU ministers’ conclusions spoke of “extra-judical executions, mutilations, forced disappearances, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and recruitment and use of child soldiers” as aspects of the war.

Meanwhile, EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva the same day in the EU capital chaired a CAR donors’ conference with representatives from some 40 countries and 20 NGOs.

She said pledges amounted to $497 million to cover emegrency aid and state-building for this year. The EU institutions pledged $61 million, France offered $47 million and the US $45 million.

“This has been for far too long a forgotten crisis - forgotten no more,” she said.

France’s junior minister in charge of development, Pascal Canfin, noted that aside from the risk of genocide, CAR is at risk of “famine” if the war stops farmers from planting crops before the rainy season begins in April.

France, the former colonial power in CAR, already has around 1,600 soldiers on the ground under a UNSC resolution.

Some left-wing EU politicians have accused both Paris and Brussels of taking a special interest in CAR due to its uranium deposits.

But French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on Monday said only that he is "very satisfied" with the EU reaction, which was made on France's request.

For his part, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt noted the use of the Eufor model in CAR could spell the end of the EU’s “battlegroups.”

Eufor, or European Union Force, is the generic name for EU states’ joint rapid reaction forces, which are created on an ad hoc basis as situations arise.

They have been used several times: in the Western Balkans, in Africa and in the Indian Ocean.

Battlegroups are also EU rapid reaction forces. They are composed of soldiers from small coalitions of EU states, who train together and who are supposed to be on standby if a crisis breaks out. They came into life in 2007 in what some described as the nucleus of a future “EU army,” but they have never been used.

“They are designed precisely for this [CAR] kind of mission. So, if not now, then when?” Bildt said.

“They are supposed to be ready. If they are not … the battlegroup concept as such will be open to debate,” he added.

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, noted that Bildt was the only one out of the 28 ministers who mentioned battlegroups in Monday's talks.