Troop, equipment gaps threaten EU's Central African Republic mission

BRUSSELS Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:28pm EDT

A Central African Republic flag is seen on a gun, which is diplayed among other arms confiscated from ex-Seleka rebels and ''anti-balaka'' militia by the French military of Operation Sangaris at a French military base in Bangui on February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Sia Kambou/Pool

A Central African Republic flag is seen on a gun, which is diplayed among other arms confiscated from ex-Seleka rebels and ''anti-balaka'' militia by the French military of Operation Sangaris at a French military base in Bangui on February 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Sia Kambou/Pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union plan to send a military force to keep the peace in Central African Republic is in jeopardy because of the failure of European governments to provide soldiers and equipment, EU sources said on Thursday.

The EU has drawn up plans to send 800 to 1,000 soldiers to Central African Republic to join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops, who have struggled to stop the fighting that started when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power a year ago in the majority Christian state.

Failure to launch the mission would be an embarrassment for the European Union, which has been trying to burnish its credentials as a security organization, and a setback for France, which has called for more European support for its efforts in Central African Republic.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote to governments on March 11 to say the EU had hoped to launch the operation next Monday but that "the difficulties we are experiencing in generating the necessary capabilities to establish the EU force put these plans at risk."

"We are in particular still missing logistical enablers, staff for headquarters and infantry units ... As of today the operation commander still does not have sufficient troops at his disposal required to conduct the operation," Ashton wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

"Logistical enablers" means vehicles and soldiers qualified in logistics, according to an EU diplomatic source.

CONSEQUENCES

The EU held three so-called "force generation" conferences in February and early March at which EU governments pledged soldiers and equipment.

A fourth meeting was held on Thursday, after Ashton made her appeal, but there was little change in the situation and key equipment and troops were still lacking, the source said, adding that about 80 percent of the required troops had been pledged.

Based on this situation, the force's French commander Major-General Philippe Ponties would conclude that he could not recommend launching the mission for now, the source said.

In her letter, Ashton spelled out the consequences of a failure to launch the mission, saying that, in the short term, it would make it difficult for the United Nations to deploy a planned peacekeeping force which is expected to be nearly 12,000-strong.

"In the long term, the EU would risk losing its credibility. Indeed, our deployment has been announced to our partners in the Central African Republic and in the region, to the African Union and to the U.N.," she said.

"The time has come for us to deliver and we must support the international community in a joint effort to make the Central African Republic a secure place to live in," she said.

Estonia, France, Latvia and Portugal are among EU states that have committed soldiers to the force so far as well as non-EU member Georgia, diplomats say.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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