EU states consider sending soldiers to central Africa
EU states' ambassadors will on Friday (10 January) discuss proposals to send a joint military force to the Central African Republic (CAR).
The EU's foreign service sent round an initial plan to embassies on Wednesday.
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Diplomatic sources say it contains two options: sending troops to secure the main roads leading from CAR to neighbouring Cameroon, or posting soldiers to protect the airport in Bangui, in order to relieve French troops who are currently stationed there to carry out other operations.
The mandate could also include protecting civilian lives and protecting international aid workers.
The EU force, of between 700 and 1,000 men, would have the status of a Common Security and Defence Policy mission, on the model of "Eufor RD Congo" - a 2006 operation to help UN peacekeepers, using member states' soldiers under the command of a senior EU military staff official.
It would not use EU "battlegroups" - joint rapid reaction forces maintained by small groups of EU countries, which have never seen action since they entered into life seven years ago.
An EU diplomat told this website that if EU countries give their backing on Friday, then a follow-up meeting of EU foreign ministers on 20 January could authorise detailed operational planning.
"It's all hypothetical at this stage. But if ministers give the go-ahead, the EU foreign service would need a few weeks to complete planning and then mobilisation of troops from member states could follow quite quickly," the contact said.
The source added that the "Eufor" structure seemed "more relevant" than the battlegroup option.
The proposal follows France's call for EU solidarity on CAR at an EU summit in December.
EU leaders at the meeting pledged to "deepen defence co-operation." But German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for one, declined French President Francois Hollande's request for a common EU fund to help pay for member states' unilateral interventions.
Poland later pledged to send a handful of soldiers to CAR to give the French mission the status of a "European" operation, which qualifies for limited EU financial support under existing arrangements.
Belgium, Germany, Spain and the UK have also pledged to supply equipment, such as transport planes.
The CAR conflict erupted in 2012 and saw rebels capture the capital city in March last year.
It has claimed more than 1,000 lives since December in escalating sectarian violence. It has also displaced almost 1 million people, some 100,000 of whom are taking shelter at Bangui airport, Reuters reports.
France is the former colonial power in CAR, a mineral-rich state, which hosts uranium mining investments by French firm Areva.