23rd Oct 2016

Europeans call for more UN troops in Congo

The worsening humanitarian crisis in eastern Congo has prompted MEPs to call on the United Nations Security Council to bolster the UN peace mission by 3,000 troops, with France pledging to contribute to the reinforcements.

Beefing up the existing 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) and expanding its mandate to also tackle illegal exploitation of gold and diamond mines were the two key proposals emerging from a plenary debate in European Parliament on Wednesday (19 November), ahead of a decision by the UN security council on the matter expected by the end of the week.

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"We have to bolster what is already there - MONUC - and send more troops. France will contribute to this increase in troops," French Europe minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet said. He added that the UN was expected to approve the proposal and was hoping India could provide more "elite troops" for the mission. India is already contributing the most troops - 4,372 - followed by Bangladesh, Pakistan and Uruguay.

The French EU presidency, which failed to gain the support of EU foreign and defence ministers to send EU troops to Congo earlier this month, drafted the UN resolution to increase the MONUC troops by 3,000.

The draft, seen by Reuters, asks the UNto approve "a temporary increase of MONUC's authorized military strength by up to 2,785 military personnel, and the strength of its formed police unit by up to 300 personnel."

The increase would bring the maximum permitted number of troops and police deployed under MONUC, already the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world, to just over 20,000 to cover a country roughly the size of western Europe.

Mr Jouyet stressed that the EU was unable to send a military mission to Congo because it was already committed in Chad and the Central African Republic, but stressed that the EU was contributing €56 million in humanitarian aid and providing air lift for delivering the assistance.

EU commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner also defended the non-military involvement of the bloc, stressing: "An EU force to secure humanitarian aid was the only one accepted by all sides."

EU soldiers wanted

But German MEP Jurgen Schroeder speaking on behalf of the European People's Party called for "a short-term EU force to stabilise the region quickly until the new MONUC troops will be deployed."

A similar position was taken by the non-governmental development group Oxfam International, which operates in Congo.

"The people of eastern Congo don't have the luxury of the three to four months it would normally take to deploy the additional [UN] troops. Only the EU can respond quickly enough with its special stand-by battlegroup forces created precisely to respond to this kind of crisis," Angela Corbalan from Oxfam told the EUobserver.

Mr Jouyet added during the debate in Strasbourg that the matter would be brought again to the attention of EU foreign ministers at an upcoming meeting in December, ahead of the EU summit.

Gold and diamonds

Ms Ferrero-Waldner along with several MEPs called on the UN to extend the MONUC mandate to also fight illegal exploitation of gold and diamond mines.

"The war has its origin in the gold and diamond mines. Despite rebel fighting, production goes on, the transport routes, the airport are functioning for this purpose and people are still getting rich on the expense of these tragedies," Social-Democrat MEP Alain Hutchinson said.

His remarks were echoed by Liberal-Democrat MEP Thierry Cornillet, who asked for a close scrutiny of the EU companies who buy ores from the militias.

Jose Ribeiro from the European People's Party said that a "blacklist" similar to the one for terrorist groups should be set up for companies who deal with "these thugs," calling for their accounts to be frozen.

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