European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, left, speaks with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski during an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Jan. 20, 2014. / Virginia Mayo
BRUSSELS (AP) - European Union foreign ministers took the first step Monday toward deploying an EU military force to assist French and African troops trying to quell anarchy and bloodshed in Central African Republic.
France, which sent 1,600 soldiers to CAR last month, wants help. The foreign ministers of the 28-nation European Union agreed Monday on a "crisis management concept," for a multinational European force that would be active for six months and charged with helping stabilize the situation around Bangui, CAR's capital.
Details of the plan remain in flux. Where the soldiers are to come from is still in question. What's more, "approval of concept doesn't mean there will be an operation," said a European Union official who attended the foreign ministers' discussions, and spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to make on-the-record comments.
A diplomat from a large EU member nation independently confirmed the approval.
EU diplomats interviewed before the meeting said the force, if fielded, would be around battalion strength, perhaps 400 to 600 troops.
At the foreign ministers' meeting, the EU official said, Estonia offered up to 55 service members and Lithuania, Slovenia and Finland said they were considering whether to participate. Greece offered to host the force headquarters.
French President Francois Hollande previously said Poland has offered a transport plane and the personnel to fly and maintain it.
"Within its zone of operations (in and around Bangui), the military force will contribute to the regional and international efforts to protect the most-endangered people and increase the civilians' freedom of movement," the ministers said in a joint statement.
They called for preparations that would allow "rapid establishment" of the force, subject to another authorizing vote by European Union countries.
After six months, the EU detachment would hand off to African Union troops, the ministers said.
Also on Monday, international donors holding a separate meeting in Brussels pledged a total of $496 million in humanitarian assistance for Central African Republic, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced.
"We have a 100-day-plan which is now fully funded and now additional resources which will go toward the plan for the rest of the year," she said. "We need to work on all of them in parallel."
Some $200 million is earmarked for immediate humanitarian needs, with the remainder set aside for financing medium-term projects to help the country get back on its feet, EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said.
"We are all deeply, deeply concerned by the fragmentation and deterioration of the situation in Central African Republic," Amos said.
The Commission, the European Union's executive arm, is contributing about $60 million. The U.S. is giving $45 million, France about the same and Sweden about $13 million, Georgieva said.
The World Bank is set to contribute around $100 million, the African Development Bank another $75 million.
Officials did not immediately provide a more detailed breakdown of the pledges, so it couldn't be immediately established whether some of the aid had been announced before.
Georgieva said Monday's meeting was a decisive step establishing that CAR will no longer be overlooked by international donors.
"Today's meeting put an end to the Central African Republic being an aid orphan, forever," she said.
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