News and Information
Blair back after Africa troop vow
|October 8, 2004
| Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived back in Britain from Africa after saying the continent should be the top priority for a new EU battle force.
Mr Blair made the pledge at the second meeting of his Commission for Africa in Ethiopia, which continues on Friday.
He vowed to put Africa at the top of the G8 group of key industrial nations' agenda next year.
He also wants it to be the top mission for the EU's new rapid response forces, expected to involve 1,500 UK troops.
Speaking in Addis Ababa, Mr Blair said: "I want Africa to be the top priority for the EU's new rapidly deployable battle groups and to get them operational as soon as possible in 2005."
The groups will be 1,500 troops strong and the first two or three are due to be operational by next year.
It was damn dirty and perfectly correctly so
Band Aid founder Bob Geldof on commission's talks
Geldof positive about talks
Britain and France are already thought to have the right capabilities to provide whole battle groups - other nations, such as Sweden and Denmark may combine.
The deployment of EU troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year was part of the plan's development.
The troops would only be used under an EU banner after a unanimous decision at the European Council of Ministers. The proposed EU constitution would allow countries contributing battle groups to cooperate anyway. HAVE YOUR SAY
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Over-stretched? The prime minister's words have caused some alarm in Britain.
Conservative shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames warned it could be a "task too far" for British troops, especially when the government was planning manpower cuts.
But Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell welcomed the move.
How Africa compares with the rest of the world
"The tragedy is they have not been in places for Darfur," he said.
Mr Blair's three-day visit to Africa saw him meet Sudan's president, asking him to end the violence in the southern Darfur region.
Later, he attended the meeting of the Commission for Africa, which will produce a plan of action early next year which will then be presented to the G8 group of leading industrialised nations.
After that report "the time for excuses will be over", Mr Blair said in his keynote address in Addis Ababa's Africa Hall.
He told delegates it was "time to turn international attention into international action".
And he urged the international community to raise $150m (£84m) to help people caught up in the conflict in the Darfur region.
Mr Blair said Britain hoped to train 20,000 African peacekeepers over the next five years.
Building stability in Africa would be to the West's advantage, he argued, as "we know that poverty and instability leads to weak states which can become havens for terrorists and other criminals".
The prime minister also visited a community project for orphaned children an hour's drive from Addis Ababa.
He was given a traditional welcome and spent time talking to some of the children and volunteer workers about the impact of HIV-Aids.
The commission's critics say it is just another talking shop.
But Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, who had urged the commission's creation, told a news conference the discussions had been radical.
"I'm not joining in the diplomatic language - it was damn dirty and perfectly correctly so," he said. "It was a genuine sense of going forward massively."
He also launched an attack on outgoing European Union aid commissioner Poul Nielson for saying British plans for rescheduling debt simply stored up problems for future generations.
Mr Geldof said: "He's talking through his arse, to be quite frank, and he shouldn't have his job if he doesn't want to help."
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