BRUSSELS, 14 Jun 2006 (IRIN) - At least 800 European Union soldiers, mainly French, will be on the ground in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), during the country's general elections, according to the commander of an EU force.
At a press briefing in Brussels on Tuesday, a day after the official launch of the operation, Gen Karlheinz Viereck of EUFOR RD CONGO, said additional troops - 1,200 in Gabon and a strategic reserve of 1,500 in Europe - would be on standby in the event they are needed. The troops within the DRC will be based at Ndolo Airport in the capital.
"The force will be fully operational starting from 29 July [the eve of presidential and parliamentary elections]," said Christian Damay of France, commander of the Kinshasa force. Viereck, a German, will be based at the headquarters of the operation in Potsdam, Germany.
"We can use force - even deadly force - if necessary," Viereck said. "I have all the necessary forces, and we will be credible. Twenty nations are supporting us, including Turkey."
The commanders were reluctant to give further details about the fighting, aircraft and intelligence capabilities at the disposal of EUFOR. Damay said the operation would be done in coordination with the Congolese army, notably through the exchange of officers. Viereck said he wanted his forces to be "visible throughout the country, even if no EU troops will operate in the eastern DRC, where MONUC [the United Nations Mission in the DRC] has enough personnel to do the job."
According to UN Security Council Resolution 1671 of 25 April 2006, EUFOR DRC Congo is authorised "to take all necessary measures? to help MONUC stabilise a situation. The European troops would also protect "civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in the areas of its deployment, and without prejudice to the responsibility of the government of DRC." The operation would also contribute to airport protection in Kinshasa and extract individuals in danger.
EUFOR would also support MONUC in the protection of international observers, including the 260 members of the independent EU observatory mission financed by the European Commission. Other observers will be sent by the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Communauté économique des etats de l'Afrique centrale (CEEAC), the Carter Centre, the Francophonie, the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA), as well as by countries such as the United States, South Africa, Japan and Belgium. Mixed teams of Congolese and Western observers will also be implemented by NGOs. The UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) will coordinate the activities of the international observers.
Despite rising tensions - primarily based on xenophobia - EUFOR's administrators are confident the operation will be a success. "If there is any major problem, we are prepared to reopen new discussions and to re-analyse everything," said Aldo Ajello, EU special representative for the Great Lakes region. "After EUFOR is gone, there are still MONUC on the ground," he said in response to a question about possible violence after the departure of the EU force. The "most dangerous period" would be between the two rounds of the elections, he said.
Regarding the next steps of the DRC's electoral process, Ajello said the proclamation of the final results of the 30 July elections would take place on 14 September. If necessary, the second leg of the presidential elections would be coupled with the provincial elections and take place on 15 October. The final results are due on 30 November, at the end of the four-month mandate of EUFOR.