EU seeks to fill gaps in Congo peacekeeping force

The European Union insisted Monday that it will be ready to provide support to U.N. peacekeepers in Congo during elections starting in July despite difficulties in mustering the troops needed for an EU military mission.

"The EU will ... be in a position to make a significant contribution to creating a more stable and secure environment during the election period," EU foreign and defense ministers said in a statement.

The ministers also agreed to prolong the bloc's support for peacekeeping efforts in another African trouble spot, extending until at least September its limited program providing training and airlift to African Union troops in Sudan's Darfur region.

They said the EU would consider "additional resources and capabilities that may be required for extending this support." Ministers also offered to help the United Nations plan to send in a more robust force to Darfur to replace AU peacekeepers who have struggled to contain a conflict that has killed more than 180,000 people and displaced 2 million.

The EU welcomed last week's peace deal between the Sudanese government and the largest Darfur rebel group. It urged other rebel forces to sign up to the agreement.

Germany's Defense Minister, Franz-Josef Jung, said talks this week had failed to bridge shortfalls in air transport and medical backup needed for the 1,500-strong EU mission to Congo which is due start ahead of the first round of elections scheduled for July 30.

Germany and France have taken a lead role in the operation, but Jung said other nations needed to make more contributions, reports the AP.

I.L.