PARIS (Reuters) - The European Union wants to deploy troops to Central African Republic by the end of April, the general picked to lead the proposed mission said on Wednesday, adding the crisis in Ukraine had delayed its launch.
France has accused the EU of shirking its responsibility for international security after a plan to send up to 1,000 troops to Central African Republic this week seemed set to collapse.
EU diplomats have said there is a link between the problems facing the Central African Republic force and the political crisis in Ukraine, where Russian forces have occupied the Crimea region, raising tensions between Moscow and the West.
“I think the international situation today in part explains why the process isn’t going as fast as expected,” General Philippe Ponties told RFI radio.
“We can’t neglect its role in slowing down the process, but unlike what has been said this mission is not blocked. The objective is to send the complete force by the end of April.”
Ponties said so far two brigades of about 300 soldiers as well as special forces and police units had been committed to the EUFOR mission, but that it still lacked around 100 men and key logistical support before it could be deployed.
France, Georgia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Spain have agreed to contribute to the mission, he said.
“The launch still needs logistical support of about 100 soldiers, ranging from medical to transport needs” Ponties said.
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.
The goal of the EU force would be to provide security in the capital Bangui and at Bangui airport, where around 70,000 people who have fled the violence are living in dire conditions.
The EU has so far held four conferences at which member states as well as some countries outside the 28-nation bloc offered troops and equipment for the operation.
Failure to send the force to Africa would be an embarrassment for the EU, which has been trying to burnish its credentials as a security organization, and a setback for France, which has sought more European support for its efforts in Central African Republic, a former French colony.
“Given the humanitarian and security situation in CAR it’s urgent that we deploy to support the African Union and French mission and to ease the humanitarian task,” Ponties said.
“It’s a transition mission that should last six months which would be a bridge between the current situation and a multinational force that should be strengthened by year-end.”
Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones