French Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was discussing the possible deployment of 400 to 1,500 European troops to the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Is it possible to send some other forces? My personal attitude is to try to do something", he said.
France, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, must convince the bloc's other member states. If they agree on a common course of action, a force could be deployed within "8 to ten days", Kouchner said.
Speaking from the UN headquarters in New York ahead of a fresh Security Council meeting on the issue, FRANCE 24's New York correspondent Philippe Bolopion stressed that UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon had been in contact with African leaders all day to put pressure on the RDC's government and on rebel fighters to end fighting in the region.
On Tuesday, the UN Security Council rejected calls for the deployment of extra forces to bolster the embattled contingent of 17,000 MONUC forces operating in the DRC.
"If the UN was to send reinforcements, it would probably take months", Bolopion said. "In the short term, a European force is the only hope for the Congolese who are caught in the crossfire."
Laurent Nkunda's CNDP rebel group announced a unilateral ceasefire on Wednesday "to avoid panicking the population of Goma" as it closed in on the strategic eastern city. Thousands of civilians are on the move to escape heavy fighting in the region.
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s regular army has started to flee Goma, leaving the UN's MONUC peacekeeping troops on the frontline.
"The government has refused to hold direct talks with a rebel leader," said FRANCE 24's DRC correspondent Arnaud Zajtman, speaking from Brussels. "Now Mr NKunda says that he is about to capture the eastern capital Goma and it seems that he has the strength to do so."
The MONUC said that some DRC soldiers turned against its troops during their retreat. The UN has evacuated its civilian staff from Goma, but the peacekeepers should remain in place.
MONUC faces criticism
The local population has accused the MONUC force of failing to prevent the advance of rebels on the regional capital Goma.
MONUC chief Alan Doss, speaking from the United Nations in New York, said everything was being done to hold the rebels back, but appealed for more direct support on the ground.
“We simply cannot have a soldier behind every tree and in every field and on every road and in every market,” he said. “It’s impossible. The situation is difficult.”
He added: “We will do whatever is necessary to defend the city (Goma) and prevent a humanitarian disaster.”
Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, dismissed calls for an escalation of the military presence led by European countries.
He told France 24: “We are on the side of the DRC, but I do not believe in the military option. By taking the diplomatic and political option we will be able to sort this conflict out in the long term.”
More than 30,000 displaced people
Meanwhile the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, with more than 30,000 displaced people arriving at Kibati, a camp 10 kilometres north of Goma.
Mohammed Touré of the UNHCR called for an immediate increase in humanitarian aid for the many thousands of displaced people fleeing the violence in Goma.
He said: “We need more shelter and more food. These people who have arrived are in a dire situation. They have left everything behind.”