Summary: June 4, 2003: EU approves its first peacekeeping mission to strife-torn Congo (Brussels)
The European Union approved its first peacekeeping mission outside Europe and without help from NATO, deciding Wednesday to send troops to strife-torn Congo in response to a U.N. plea.
EU ambassadors meeting in Brussels OK'd the deployment after clearing up logistical questions, including how it will be financed, EU diplomats said on condition of anonymity. The operation will be dubbed Artemis after the Greek goddess of hunting.
EU ministers will formally ratify the decision Thursday.
The French-led force of 1,400 - authorized by the U.N. Security Council last Friday - would be only the second mission undertaken by the EU. The bloc took over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia last March with about 400 troops, but received planning and logistical support from NATO, which includes the United States.
A mission to northeast Congo, where tribal fighting over the past month has killed more than 500 people, would be a far bigger test of the EU's effort to develop a military wing independent of NATO to beef up its foreign policy ambitions.
It also would involve considerably more risk than anything tried so far.
"The situation is anything but safe or stable at the moment," EU spokesman Diego de Ojeda said.
France, which has extensive experience intervening in African trouble spots, will supply the commander of the Congo force and about 700 troops. Britain, Belgium, Sweden and Ireland may also participate along with non-EU nations such as South Africa, Brazil, Canada and Ethiopia, European diplomats say.
The vanguard of the force is expected in the city of Bunia this weekend.
France will hold a conference next Tuesday in Paris for countries that want to contribute troops. The final order to deploy and an operational plan should be approved by the next day, diplomats said, adding that both were considered formalities.
The force will take over from about 750 beleaguered U.N. peacekeepers from Uruguay until Sept. 1, when a larger U.N. force led by Bangladesh is due to be in place.
The EU began four years ago to put together a pool of 60,000 troops available at short notice for peacekeeping, humanitarian operations and regional crises. Defense ministers declared the rapid-reaction force ready last month, although hardware gaps remain.
Diplomats said the EU force would be well armed, backed by mechanized units and would operate under robust rules of engagement to allow it to defend itself and civilians. Its main tasks will be to secure Bunia and its airport and protect aid agencies and tens of thousands of refugees around the city.