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EU appoints commanders for Congo force

NAIROBI, 28 Apr 2006 (IRIN) - The Council of the European Union has appointed two commanders and adopted a "Joint Action" on its military operation to support the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during general elections scheduled to be held later this year.

"The EU is determined to support the electoral process and the Congolese people at this historic juncture," Javier Solana, the EU High Representative said in a statement issued on Thursday. "Today's decision, which follows the authorisation of the EU operation by the Security Council, further confirms that this operation is well on track. Support now will help embed peace in the DRC and the region after years of conflict."

The EU appointed Maj-Gen Karlheinz Viereck of Germany the operations commander for the reserve force, known as Eufor R.D. Congo; and Maj-Gen Christian Damay of France as force commander. Prior to his appointment, Viereck was the deputy commander, Bundeswehr Operations Command, Potsdam, Germany, which is also home to the EU operational command.

The appointments follow the passing of a resolution by the UN Security Council on Tuesday, endorsing the deployment of the EU troops. The force will be deployed for a period ending four months after the date of the first round of the forthcoming general elections. It is due to deploy and advance element of 400-450 military personnel to Kinshasa, the Congolese capital.

The force will also have a battalion of troops "on-call", the EU said, which would be based outside the DRC "but quickly deployable if necessary". It said the decision on the launching of the operation would be adopted "at a later stage and in the light of the electoral calendar in the DRC".

Viereck and Damay will work in close coordination with the UN Secretary-General as well as with the EU high representative to the Great Lakes region.

The EU troops are mandated to support the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, to stabilise the situation in case MONUC faces serious difficulties in fulfilling its mandate within its existing capabilities. The EU troops are also to contribute to the protection of civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in the areas of its deployment. The EU force is also charged with contributing to airport protection in Kinshasa; and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel as well as the protection of its installations.

The EU said its military operation would be conducted in agreement with Congolese authorities and in close coordination with them and MONUC. It would be conducted in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy, the EU said. The troops will operate in accordance with the objectives of EU support to MONUC as approved by the Security Council on 23 March.

The EU put the cost of the EU force for the four-month period at 16.7 million euros (US $20.9 million).

The EU said it had, in recent years, intensified its efforts to facilitate a successful transition in the DRC, on the basis of a peace agreement signed in Pretoria in 2002.

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