EU mission in Central African Republic suffers setback

  
French troops, Central African Republic. [Shutterstock]

A European Union plan to deploy peacekeepers in the Central African Republic is in jeopardy because of the failure of European governments to provide soldiers and equipment, EU sources said on Thursday (13 May).

The EU has drawn up plans to send 800 to 1,000 soldiers to the Central African Republic to join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops, who have struggled to stop the fighting that started when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power a year ago in the majority Christian state.

Failure to launch the mission would be an embarrassment for the European Union, which has been trying to burnish its credentials as a security organisation, and a setback for France, which has called for more European support for its efforts in Central African Republic.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote to governments on 11 March, to say the EU had hoped to launch the operation next Monday, but that "the difficulties we are experiencing in generating the necessary capabilities to establish the EU force put these plans at risk."

"We are in particular still missing logistical enablers, staff for headquarters and infantry units ... As of today the operation commander still does not have sufficient troops at his disposal required to conduct the operation," Ashton wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

"Logistical enablers" means vehicles and soldiers qualified in logistics, according to an EU diplomatic source.

Consequences

The EU held three so-called "force generation" conferences in February and early March, at which EU governments pledged soldiers and equipment.

A fourth meeting was held on Thursday, after Ashton made her appeal, but there was little change in the situation. Key equipment and troops were still lacking, the source said, adding that about 80 percent of the required soldiers had been pledged.

Based on this situation, the force's French commander, Major-General Philippe Ponties, concluded that he could not recommend launching the mission for now, the source said.

In her letter, Ashton spelled out the consequences of a failure to launch the mission, saying that, in the short term, it would make it difficult for the United Nations to deploy a planned peacekeeping force which is expected to be nearly 12,000-strong.

"In the long term, the EU would risk losing its credibility. Indeed, our deployment has been announced to our partners in the Central African Republic and in the region, to the African Union and to the UN," she said.

"The time has come for us to deliver, and we must support the international community in a joint effort to make the Central African Republic a secure place to live in," she said.

Estonia, France, Latvia and Portugal are among EU states that have committed soldiers to the force so far as well as non-EU member Georgia, diplomats say.

‘Stabilisation’ measures

Together with other international donors, the EU has pledged €366 million to the CAR in January, looking to balance short-term security and "stabilisation" measures, with humanitarian and development aid programmes. These include short-term relief, as well as the restoration of basic services and cash-for-work programmes.

The European Commission also decided to increase its humanitarian support to €45 million in 2014, based on a study of the needs in the region, including shelter, health, protection from violence, water, sanitation and hygiene. The European Union gave €76 million in 2013, with €39 million coming from the Commission.

>> Read: Donors pledge $496 million to Central African Republic

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