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EU troops arriving in Congo, can use force if need be - force commander

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Eurofor
Eddy Isango/IRIN

Maj-Gen Christian Damay, commander of EUFOR in Kinshasa

KINSHASA, 26 Jun 2006 (IRIN) - Advance teams of the European Union's Force for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as EUFOR DRCongo, have begun arriving in the capital, Kinshasa. The force was established at the request of the United Nations to support the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), during the country's first democratic general elections in 45 years, scheduled for 30 July. EUFOR commanders presented the force to the media on 22 June in Kinshasa. The force is expected to be fully deployed ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections, and has a four-month mandate (from 30 July). The force will be based at the Ndolo military airport in Kinshasa on stand-by should the speedy evacuation of European nationals become necessary. The EU has contributed US $440 million to the country's electoral process - 80 percent of the total budget.

Maj-Gen Christian Damay of France heads the force from Kinshasa, while German Maj-Gen Karlheinz Viereck is the overall commander based at the EU force's headquarters in Belgium. Both men were in Kinshasa during Thursday's presentation. IRIN spoke with Damay about the deployment of the EU force. We bring you excerpts of that interview:

QUESTION: What exactly is EUFOR's mission?

ANSWER: The aim of this mission is to support MONUC in securing the electoral process. We are here for the duration of electoral period, to facilitate the smooth running of the electoral operations, and to make sure that this extremely important period for DRC takes place in the best conditions possible. It is the wish of the EU that things go as well as possible.

Q: MONUC has already deployed at least 17,000 troops in the country. It has a similar mission to securing the electoral process; what is the difference between what EUFOR and MONUC will be doing?

A: It is the European nations, which, by definition, are participating in this force [EUFOR], which is not the case for the units deployed within the framework of MONUC. EUFOR's operations are being carried out with the agreement of the international community and the DRC government. MONUC's resources are stretched during this electoral period, and so they need reinforcement. This is why EUFOR was created.

Q: How many troops will be deployed under this force and where will their operations be based?

A: Part of this force will be stationed in the DRC capital, Kinshasa. This is due to logistical reasons: we are able to deploy our aeroplanes from here to any part of the DRC where they may be needed. We can only deploy troops using aeroplanes.

Another part of the force will remain outside the DRC - in Gabon - because there is infrastructure there that allows us to set up a force that can be deployed rapidly to the Congo by air. [In total] There will be 2,000 [troops] between the DRC in Kinshasa and Gabon. And there will be a strategic reserve stationed in Europe that we could call on if necessary. I must say that we do not expect to have to resort to using this force. Around 800 [troops] will be based in Kinshasa. That includes command, support, protection and intervention units that could be called should there be any unrest. At the moment, we have around 250 staff that have already arrived - they are there for logistical support and preparation for the installation.

The second phase is to deploy forces in Gabon. These elements will be able to intervene. Regarding deployment in the field, everyone will be in place by the second half of July, at least 15 days before the elections.

The reserve battalion in Europe is around 1,500 men. Twenty EU countries are participating in EUFOR. It is very important to have involved 19 of the 25 countries that make up the EU, including Turkey. To give you the proportions, one-third of the force is German, one-third French, and one-third from the other European nations.

Q: MONUC operates under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter, which allows it to use force. Is this also the case for EUFOR?

A: Yes, we are operating under Chapter Seven. We have very precise rules of engagement. We have a mandate - a mission to accomplish. To carry out this mission, we have been given the authority from the highest level to open fire - but only under strict guidelines. This basically means using the minimum of force and only if absolutely necessary; any action must be carried out in proportion to the level of aggression. So, we only respond when threatened and in a way that allows us to accomplish our mission. Simply put, we will only shoot when we are shot at.

Q: During the elections, voting will take place throughout the country. How will you manage to secure all these places?

A: We do not claim to be able to secure the elections - that is the role of others who are doing it better and more comprehensively than us. Our mission is to help in the effort, where needed, and to be able to reinforce the security operations.

Q: Insecurity persists in the east of the country, yet EUFOR is based in Kinshasa. Why is EUFOR not in the east where foreign armed groups and local militia pose a major problem?

A: This has been the agreement from the start. MONUC is a much larger mission and is deployed in the east of the country. It was agreed that EUFOR would not be a substitute for MONUC. MONUC has not expressed the need for EUFOR's presence in the east. On the contrary, MONUC would like EUFOR to act where it is not present. That is why we are going to the regions we have chosen. We are based in Kinshasa because we can rapidly deploy by air. There is no point in positioning ourselves somewhere where nothing will happen.


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