Voice of America (Washington, DC)

22 August 2014

East Africa: Troops Pledged for East African Standby Force

Kigali — Defense chiefs from 10 East African countries have pledged a total of 5,000 troops to a new regional standby force for deployment by December.

Rwanda's army spokesman said the officials made the pledges at a meeting in Kigali.

The African Union has been working on a plan for 10 years for each of the continent's regions to have its own peacekeeping force on standby in case of emergencies.

Target date set

The A.U. is aiming for all the forces to be in place by December 2015, but some regions are more advanced than others. The East African region's heads of state, 10 of whom are signed up to the plan, decided in June they want their regional standby force to be operational by December of this year.

"The East African standby force heads of state decided that due to the insecurity that is prevailing in the East African region the member countries need to take urgent steps," said Rwanda's military spokesman, General Joseph Nzabamwita.

In the past year war has broken out in South Sudan and conflict has spread to Kenya's coastal region, while more recently security has deteriorated in Somalia.

Nzabamawita said the heads of state sent military and security officials to Kigali this week, where the target number of troops and police was agreed to.

"We also pledged four police units of between 140 and 170 men each, so we got all the troops that we wanted and the police officers that we wanted to put at the disposal of the organization to be able to deploy at any one time," Nzambamwita said.

He said Burundi has pledged a battalion of light infantry. Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda have each pledged a motorized battalion and Kenya a mechanized battalion, while Comoros, Djibouti and Somalia are each contributing a squadron or company.

Urgent timing

The Rwandan defense minister, General James Kabarebe, told defense chiefs at the meeting on Friday they have a short time frame within which to get the force ready.

The East African plan is for each member state to contribute to a fund, which would enable the regional force to put boots on the ground in a crisis zone, within 14 days if necessary. Thereafter other donors' help would be needed to maintain operations, but the region should put up its own funding initially.

It is intended to hold an EASF funding conference with donors in the first half of next year.

"Once we have the funding, then you are sure of sustainability, and the most important thing is that the leaders are planning to ensure that member states contribute, and donors. So we can only hope that we get all the support and all the finances as soon as possible," Nzambamwita said.

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said last month that regional organizations in Africa are playing a more central role in peacekeeping than ever before, and that, as they step forward, they deserve full support.

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