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EU ponders using troops to help quell Darfur strife

April 22, 2005

by Guy Dinmore and Hubert Wetzel in Washington and Daniel Dombey,in Vilnius

Published: April 22 2005

French and German forces could be sent to stop the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region as part of a European Union peacekeeping mission that is one of several ideas to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next week, officials said yesterday.

The proposed EU peacekeeping force would support an African Union observer mission made up largely of Nigerian and Rwandan troops already in the region but in too few numbers to have a significant impact.

The EU contingent, if agreed, was likely to give logistics support to the African observers but EU ground forces had not been ruled out, provided there was the consent of the Sudanese government and the AU, the officials said.

Analysts in Washington were sceptical of either party being able to agree or that the EU would find consensus or the available troops.

Two million people have fled their homes in two years of violence between Darfur rebels and government forces allied with local militia, the Janjaweed. Up to 300,000 people have died from fighting, famine and disease, and the United Nations estimates that 3m people will need feeding by the end of the year. The US has accused the government and militia of genocide but its efforts to get Nato a role in helping the AU have foundered and the focus of diplomatic activity has switched to the EU.

EU foreign ministers have Darfur on their agenda at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. Belgium’s foreign minister, Karel de Gucht, discussed the issue in Washington this week, a Belgian spokesman said. Mr de Gucht told a separate meeting that the main issue was whether to send ground forces or just help with logistics such as airlift, helicopters and communications.

According to one participant who asked not to be named, Mr de Gucht suggested that Tony Blair, the prime minister, had made plans to send a UK contingent after the summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrialised nations he is to host in early July.

An EU official noted there was new diplomatic momentum to take action in Darfur following a successful donors’ conference last week in Oslo to firm up a peace agreement signed in January to end Sudan’s separate north-south civil war.

The first UN troops have started arriving in south Sudan to enforce the peace deal ending 21 years of war. Meanwhile in Nairobi attempts to reconcile warring militias with the main rebel movement and the Khartoum government ended with an appeal for unity despite the absence of key warlords.

Observers said that without figures such as Gabriel Tanginya and Paulino Matip, who both command militia blamed for abducting civilians, reconciliation attempts would be worthless. Additional reporting by Rob Crilly in Nairobi

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