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EU ministers to back sending force to Central African Republic

Source: Reuters - Fri, 17 Jan 2014 20:37 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* EU's first major army operation in six years

* U.N. official has warned of risk of genocide

* EU force of up to 1,000 start to arrive by end-February

By Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS, Jan 17 (Reuters) - European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree on Monday to send up to 1,000 soldiers to help stabilise Central African Republic, the EU's first major army operation in six years, EU officials said on Friday.

The intervention by the 28-nation bloc comes after a senior U.N. official warned on Thursday of the risk of genocide in Central African Republic without a more robust international response to communal bloodshed.

Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday are set to approve the broad outline of a plan to send EU peacekeeping troops. Detailed military planning and U.N. Security Council authorisation will be needed before the troops are sent.

Diplomats said the EU force could start arriving in Central African Republic by the end of February. "The idea is to have deployment as rapidly as possible," one official said.

The EU has 7,000 staff deployed around the world on 12 civilian missions and four military operations, including combatting piracy off Somalia and training the Mali army.

But this will be the EU's first land operation since it sent a force to eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic in 2008 as part of regional efforts to deal with the Darfur crisis in Sudan, an EU official said.

Central African Republic descended into chaos after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in March, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that sparked revenge attacks by Christian militia.

More than a million people have been displaced by the violence since Seleka installed their leader Michel Djotodia as interim president. Djotodia resigned last week.

Over 1,000 people were killed last month alone in the capital Bangui.

France has sent 1,600 troops to its former colony, operating under a U.N. mandate to assist an African Union (AU) force that is due to be bolstered to 6,000 peacekeepers.

The EU intends its mission to be a bridging force which will hand over to the AU force in four to six months. The EU contingent is expected to be based around Bangui, including the airport, to protect civilians.

The European force is expected to be battalion-strength, roughly 700 to 1,000 soldiers, one official said. However, another diplomat said it may be smaller at 400 to 600 soldiers.

Once ministers have approved the outline of a mission, EU member states will be asked to pledge troops. Some of the EU's largest countries including Britain, Germany and Italy do not intend to send troops, diplomats say.

Belgium and Estonia have said they could send troops as part of an EU mission and Poland and Sweden could also possibly contribute, as well as France, EU diplomats said. (Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, editing by Alister Doyle)

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