EU to Boost African Peacekeeping and Security Funding
Move Comes as Brussels Summit Between EU and African Leaders Gets Under Way
The Central African Republic took center stage at a summit here Wednesday between European Union and African leaders.
Top officials from 20 African and EU member states met at the opening of the two-day summit to discuss the crisis in the Central African Republic, where tens of thousands of Muslims have fled their homes after attacks by Christian militias.
The EU used the summit to announce fresh details of its military mission to that embattled nation and said it was stepping up security-related assistance for Africa.
The bloc has been drawn increasingly into African conflicts in recent years, with Paris often leading the way. France, which was a past colonial power in Africa, sent troops to Mali in early 2013 to put down an offensive by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants. And French President François Hollande has placed 2,000 troops to the Central African Republic to stem bloodshed.
The EU is supporting the French intervention in both countries. Brussels has also launched other military operations in the region, including in Somalia, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also operates a separate antipiracy mission off the Somali coast.
"We have also seen that although stubborn pockets of conflicts remain, causing immense suffering and devastation especially on women and children, progress is being made," said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, president of the Commission of the African Union.
To bolster African military capacities, EU leaders said they would double spending on the African Peace Facility, a joint EU-African Union fund supporting African-run peacekeeping and conflict resolution missions. The EU will give €800 million ($1.1 billion) to the fund over the next three years.
"We wish to empower the Africans to set up their own security structures," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference with Mr. Hollande.
Mr. Hollande said Europe will continue to "bring in its armed forces to prevent conflicts, to prevent massacres and to fight against terrorism" in Africa.
The EU on Tuesday formally launched its delayed military mission in the Central African Republic. The mission aims to restore calm in areas around the main airport and two districts in the capital, Bangui, freeing up French and African Union troops to stem violence elsewhere.
Violence spread in this country of 4.6 million after an alliance of Muslim rebel groups from the north united to overthrow the former president. Christian militias have attacked anyone perceived as supporting the now-defunct Muslim rebel government.
In a news conference, Major Gen. Philippe Pontiès said he plans to have 800 people on the ground, with the mission starting to carry out its main tasks by the end of April. The operation is supposed to be at full strength by late May and wind down nine months later.
Gen. Pontiès said nine countries will send troops as part of the mission, including France, Spain and Italy. Georgia, which isn't an EU member, will also participate.
Germany and Britain, which won't put combat troops on the ground, are among those sending strategic transport assets, including planes to carry troops and allow emergency medical evacuations.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU's executive arm is also working on a new development package worth €100 million for Central African Republic to shore up a situation that "has severely deteriorated" over the past year.
Among other issues on the summit's agenda are trade and a joint initiative to give greater access to legal migrants from Africa in exchange for stepped-up border controls by African governments. Hundreds of Africans have died in recent months in efforts to enter Europe illegally.
The EU has longtime ties with Africa and is currently its biggest trade partner, its largest donor and its top provider of foreign direct investment. Trade in goods between the two regions reached almost €340 billion euros in 2012, the EU said.
As in the past, this week's summit has generated some controversy. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe stayed away even after the EU waived his visa ban because the bloc didn't allow his wife, who also faces sanctions, to come.
The last EU-African summit was hosted in late 2010 by the late Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Months later, he was toppled in a U.K.-French led military mission.