African defence ministers vow to enhance peace in region

Nairobi, Aug 18 (IANS) Defence ministers from East African countries have wrapped up their meeting here vowing to enhance peace and security in the troubled region.

The ministers met to discuss effective strategies to strengthen an Eastern African Standby Force (EASF) created by the African Union to promote regional peace and stability, reported Xinhua.

The meeting came after the region's leaders in April agreed to set up a 5,500-strong rapid reaction force to help end wars and civil conflicts on the continent.

Leaders and officials from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somali, Sudan, the Comoros, Eritrea, Rwanda, Madagascar, Kenya and the Seychelles signed a deal on April 11 in Ethiopia, outlining the mission's legal and policy details together with sources for its $2.5 million annual budget.

EASF is one of the five regional components of the African Standby Force (ASF) established by the African Union for the purpose of containing conflicts and enhancing peace and security on the continent.

The ASF, mooted about 10 years ago, was meant to be a sort of a rapid reaction force that would have an early warning mechanism, for instance sending an advance party of conflict resolution and peace enforcement experts in a county showing signs of imminent conflict.

It is planned to be able to deploy in two weeks in cases of sporadic conflict and within 30 days of approval by the Africa Union Commission for normal operation.

"Currently, EASF draws its membership from 10 active member states including Burundi, Comoros, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda," said Brig. Gen. Cyrille Ndayirukiye, the director of EASF Coordinating Mechanism (EASFCOM).

Different donors have already reportedly offered financial assistance to build the force that is expected to be ready for deployment by 2015 in conflict resolution missions.

Similar training are being held by various countries under regional blocs like the South African Development Community, the Economic Community for Central African States and the Economic Community of Western African States.

It is envisaged that by 2015, these regional blocs will have developed the capacity of their armies to constitute a regional force for the African Union capable of responding to any eventuality.

ASF has five brigades compromising of civilian, military and police components - divided among the five regional blocks. Progress in establishing full brigades varies from region to region.

ASF's full actualization has been postponed nearly three times; first in 2008, then 2010, 2013 and now has been put to 2015.

AU officials say the launching of the new force still requires time, additional military expertise, financial and equipment support. The force will also require intelligence capability to be effective.

It is estimated that conflicts in Africa cost the continent over $300 billion between 1990 and 2005, an amount equivalent to all the international aid received by sub-Saharan Africa in the same period, according to a study by Oxfam International, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and Saferworld.

Kenya's Cabinet Secretary for Defense Rachael Omamo, who spoke during the 15th ordinary meeting of the Council of Defence Ministers on Saturday, said the region is not insulated from complexities of life that bring about social instability, upheavals and general insecurity.

Events in the Great Lakes region, Somalia and Sudan bear witness to this testimony, she added.

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