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EU Battle group Must Be Deployed to Conflict in Congo
The Irish Times
Rory Keane
1 November 2008

Dr. Rory Keane is an expert commentator on peacebuilding and security issues. He has written extensively on the European Unions Security Policy. The following article was published as an opinion piece, with Dr. Keane writing in his own capacity.

Tens of thousands of refugees are reported to be on the roads of North Kivu (eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC) and some charities have pulled out of the city of Goma, despite a ceasefire announced by rebels on October 29th. ()

Down the line a durable peace will only come about through a regional approach steered by the governments of Kinshasa (DRC) and Kigali (Rwanda). For durable peace, sensitive questions will need to be tackled, including thorny issues such as the possibility for Hutu rebels to return to Rwanda, proper regulation of natural resources, protection for minorities and a workable form of cross-border regional co-operation between DRC and Rwanda. However, in the short term, discussions on a durable peace are not on the radar, as the AK-47 continues to rule the region.

Today, diplomats and development actors urgently need to turn to peacekeepers as stabilisation becomes priority number one. An under-trained, under-equipped and underfed DRC army is not able to stabilise the situation, while the Monuc (UN mission) is doing its best, but remains overstretched. Military reinforcement is therefore urgently needed.

On paper, the EU is ready and equipped to respond to this type of urgency. EU battlegroups now exist, but have never been used. Their purpose is to respond to requests from the UN to undertake rapid intervention in a hostile environment, including support for the provision of urgent humanitarian aid. The challenge now for the EU and its active French presidency is to deploy an EU battlegroup in the next 15 days to eastern DRC. If the EU fails this test it will call into question the wisdom behind creating battlegroups and, more significantly, will call into question the will of the EU to protect the most vulnerable.

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has long been an advocate of the responsibility to protect citizens - in places like Darfur - when states are unable or unwilling to protect their own citizens. There are indications that he, along with Belgium - the former colonial power in DRC - may well push for the deployment of an EU battlegroup to Goma, in line with the responsibility to protect doctrine.

The most credible option would be to deploy the Franco-German battlegroup, which includes 2,300 soldiers. However, its deployment could be stalled by the German Parliament, which would need to vote for such a deployment in line with the German constitution.

The challenge, therefore, for the EU French presidency is to encourage Germany and fellow EU member states to enable a deployment by mid-November. If successful, an EU battlegroup can help transform the responsibility to protect from word to deed. More importantly, rapid deployment will enable displaced families to cautiously return to their homes in places like Goma.

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