French troops take position with a Sagaie tank in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Thursday. The European Union will likely approve sending a military force to the embattled nation. (AFP/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers are expected to approve a military mission to protect civilians in the Central African Republic at their meeting on Jan. 20 here. For an EU mission to be launched, all 28 member countries must agree, which an EU official said is “very likely.”
The aim of the mission will be to protect civilians around Bangui for four to six months before handing over to an African Union mission.
The crisis in the Central African Republic affects 4.6 million people, with 60 percent of them in dire need of aid, according to an EU External Action fact sheet. “As of 15 January, there were about 886,000 internally displaced persons in CAR,” it says.
“We see a growing risk of regional conflict that might grow out of the instability in CAR,” said an EU official, adding that the “African Union had increased its presence in CAR with military force” and there have been “some improvements in the situation.”
But, according to another official, “tensions are bubbling under the surface.”
“Displaced people are still fearing for their lives and belongings, especially near Bangui. And 20 kilometers from the the city, the violence continues. There is plenty of scope for this worsening, with dramatic consequences,” he warned.
The mission will likely focus in and around Bangui, the first EU official said, as this is where there is “the most violence and the densest population.”
The official was unable to give a figure for the exact size of the force envisioned but said 1,000 is “a maximum figure.” Initial deployment of the EU force could happen within 30 days, but that depends on the force generation process and changes in the situation in CAR, the official said. A headquarters in Europe and one in the CAR would likely be set up.
The EU force would likely take the form of infantry units with support such as surveillance communications, logistics, medical support and transport, including helicopters for internal mobility, the official said. He pointed to one of the challenges for planning being how to reduce the bill through efficiencies with the French and African Union forces already there.
Denmark, which has an opt-out on EU military matters, will not contribute troops or funding to cover costs such as transport and accommodation. However, if the mission is agreed upon, the other 27 will contribute to funding but may or may not contribute troops.
France, which is conducting a mission in the CAR, is expected to contribute troops, the EU official said. Estonia, Belgium, Poland, Sweden and the Nordic countries may also send troops. The UK will not send troops, another EU official said. ■