EU troops will protect a number of facilities in Ituri

BBC News

The European Union (EU) representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo has said that the EU is sending troops to the north-eastern town of Bunia to maintain peace between the government and rebels.
Bunia is the capital of the flashpoint Ituri province, where clashes between the Hema and Lendu tribes in the last four years have claimed some 50,000 lives.

Mr Aldo Ajello, the EU representative told journalists at the news conference in Kinshasa that the EU mission, codenamed Artemis, will comprise 1,500 men, including 900 French troops.

This will be the first EU military operation outside Europe.

According to Mr Ajello, the force will protect civilians and UN personnel and secure the airport in the town, where fighting has claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks

UN mandate

About 250 soldiers, mainly French and four British military officers, arrived in Bunia on Thursday with more expected to be flown in from Entebbe international airport in neighbouring Uganda over the coming days.

Mr Ajello said that the EU force will be deployed in Bunia under the Security Council mandate until a more robust UN mission in the DR Congo, MONUC, can take over in September.

Britain has said it will commit a team of military engineers and a transport aircraft to the EU-led multinational force deploying in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

British Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram told the House of Commons on Thursday that it is still too early to say how many UK troops will be sent to Bunia.

"The exact numbers of personnel needed will not be known until we have completed further detailed analysis of the engineering tasks required in Bunia," he said.

Humanitarian needs

The Security Council delegation was in Bunia on Thursday to assess humanitarian needs after fierce inter-ethnic clashes, which threaten the country's peace process.

The mission, is expected to meet with representatives of the French-led EU military troops and members of the Ituri administration of the RCD Goma rebels .

Mr Ajello called on all warring parties to speed up the process of forming a government of national unity, which will include representatives from rebel groups such as RCD Goma.

DR Congo President Joseph Kabila told the UN mission on Wednesday that the coalition government will be in place by the end of June.

However, RCD Goma has dismissed this saying that it was not possible to do so before sorting out the army issue.

RCD Goma want to control the ground forces of the DR Congo army.