No consensus on EU peacekeeping mission to Congo
European Union foreign ministers failed Monday to agree on sending a peacekeeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo, as requested by UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, dpa reported.
In a statement, ministers said they were "very concerned" by the evolving situation in the African country, and noted a decision by member states to provide an additional 45.6 million euros (57.7 million dollars) in humanitarian aid.
And while reiterating their support for the United Nations' Monuc mission, ministers politely turned down Ban's request, saying merely that they had "taken note" of the secretary general's letter.
In the meantime, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would be tasked with finding rapid and appropriate "technical, humanitarian and political responses" to the unfolding crisis, ministers said.
France, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, had already ruled out the deployment of European forces, insisting instead on the need to reinforce Monuc, which currently consists of about 16,500 peacekeepers from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
But pressure had grown on the EU to act following Ban's call on the bloc to reinforce UN peacekeepers in the former Belgian colony until more UN troops can deploy.
"It is urgent that we take a decision on such a bridging force (to Congo), which to my mind is absolutely necessary," said Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht at the start of the talks in Brussels.
The minister said an EU mission would need up to 3,000 heavily-armed soldiers, who would fill in immediate shortages.
De Gucht was backed by his colleagues from Sweden, Ireland and the Czech Republic, while Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said the EU should consider deploying its battlegroups.
The EU currently has two such battlegroups, consisting of about 1,500 soldiers each, on standby. These are meant to be deployed at short notice anywhere in the world, but have never been used to date.
"If we don't send them to Congo, where do we send them?" Stubb asked as he arrived in Brussels.
However, any decision to immediately send EU troops was opposed by heavyweights Germany and Britain, with Italy saying more time was needed to discuss the issue, officials said.
Some 250,000 civilians have been displaced in the east of the DR Congo since the summer as a result of renewed clashes between government forces and Tutsi rebels.
Monday's ministerial meeting was largely meant to prepare the groundwork for this week's EU summit of heads of state and government.
It was also set to debate the difficult situation in Zimbabwe and the need to forge closer ties with Pakistan in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attack.
Ministers also debated the EU's Eulex legal mission in Kosovo and its anti-piracy naval mission off the coast of Somalia. Both missions formally begin this week.