Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ban: EU's Refusal Could Lead to a Humanitarian Disaster

A letter from Ban Ki-moon to the EU foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana pleads for a "bridging force" of EU peacekeepers to be sent to the Congo and warns that the EU's failure to send troops could lead to a humanitarian disaster. The letter was written before last Thursday's meeting of EU foreign policy ministers, at which it was decided not to send troops.

The EU leaders had previously denied they had been explicitly asked for a 'bridging force' and insisted UN reinforcements could arrive within two months.

The letter, which was leaked to the Observer, an English newspaper, reiterates much that is already known: that it would take months for the UN to establish a viable peacekeeping force of its own in the area, and that some 250,000 people currently displaced by the fighting could be at risk.

But it also reveals that the UN shares in the widespread assessment that Congo's armed forces are of little help to the population and 'near total disintegration.'

At the meeting on Thursday, Britain argued that any action in eastern Congo should be left to the UN and indicated it would not be sending troops. Germany also opposed sending troops, and French president Sarkozy said two days later that he didn't see why Angola couldn't send troops under UN auspices, contradicting earlier apparent French support for the EU intervention.

This story in Le Monde speculates that France's reversal on the EU mission--its schizophrenia, as HRW calls it--could be due to French nervousness over its relationship with Rwanda. France is widely acknowledged to have supported the Hutu regime prior to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the extent of that support--and whether it continued through the genocide itself--are extremely delicate matters. Given these tensions, France just doesn't want to be in a situation in which its soldiers are confronting Tutsi forces.

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