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Kouchner says EU not sending troops to Congo
By JAMEY KEATEN and CONSTANT BRAND
Associated Press
2008-10-30 02:54 AM
The European Union has considered sending troops to reinforce U.N. peacekeepers in Congo but the idea was rejected by several member nations, the French foreign minister said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Paris after a meeting with his Australian counterpart that EU nations had discussed a possible deployment but "a certain number of countries refused."

"It's very difficult to say what we can do outside of diplomatic efforts, efforts at persuasion, and efforts so that peace can be achieved by leaning on the two countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda," said Koucher, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency. He offered no further details.

"This is really a desperate situation. Honestly, my personal attitude is to try to do something," Kouchner added. "I hope that the French presidency will make a proposal in the coming days."

Gen. Henri Bentegeat, chairman of the EU's Military Committee, said the 27-nation bloc was equipped and ready, if called upon, to send soldiers to Congo, where tens of thousands are fleeing amid fighting between Congolese government troops and minority Tutsi rebels.

"Clearly if there is urgent operational need somewhere, the employment of a battlegroup may be considered (but) its engagement must be approved by all 27 members of the European Union," Bentegeat told journalists after chairing a regular defense chiefs meeting in Brussels.

EU's battlegroups _ elite units of about 1,500 soldiers _ are designed for rapid deployment to world trouble spots. They form a key element in the development of an expanded military role for the EU.

Bentegeat said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana briefed the military chiefs on Wednesday on the crisis.

During the meeting he "underlined that it is now time for diplomatic action and we'll see later on ... whether some other kind of action is needed," said Bentegeat.

The EU sent a top aid envoy to Congo on Wednesday to hold talks with key Congolese government leaders in Kinshasa to assess humanitarian needs and to push for a cease-fire.

Louis Michel, the EU's development aid commissioner was to meet with President Joseph Kabila and other top officials.

Michel's visit is a "fact-finding" mission to determine emergency aid needs, his spokesman John Clancy said. Michel returns to Brussels on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Solana has discussed the situation by telephone with Kabila, Rwandan leaders and with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Solana's office issued a statement urging all parties involved in the fighting, notably Nkunda's forces, "to show utmost restraint."

His spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said the EU was returning its special envoy in the region, Roeland van de Geer, to Congo on Friday to press for an end to the fighting.

The United Nations is also considering sending reinforcements.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was sending Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer to Kinshasa to try to ease tensions.

___

AP Writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this story. Brand reported from Brussels, Keaten from Paris.

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