Angola + 5 more

Africa: AU backs military exercises to strengthen standby force

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ADDIS ABABA, 20 June (IRIN) - The African Union (AU) is supporting a series of massive joint military exercises for more than a dozen of the continent's armies to help boost its peacekeeping power, officials said on Monday.

"These exercises will help strengthen our African Standby Force and improve our peacekeeping in Africa," Said Djinnit, the AU's peace and security commissioner, said at the announcement of the exercises at the headquarters of the 53-nation bloc in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Djinnit said troops from at least 12 African nations would take part in the exercises, which are due to begin later this year.

The 15,000 strong African Standby Force would act as the armed wing of the AU's Peace and Security Council, and is due to be in place by next year.

Five regions from Africa -north, south, east, west and central Africa - are contributing to the full AU force. The European Union (EU) Special Representative for the African Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, said the exercises would prepare central Africa to take up its peacekeeping role.

"This will open up new windows for the reform of the security sector, which is a vital aspect for the stabilisation of the region and for development," he said.

"If we cannot guarantee peace and stability there will be no development. This programme will help us underscore that," he added.

The AU estimates that since the 1960s Africa has witnessed some 30 conflicts, which have resulted in the loss of seven million lives and have cost the continent about US $250 billion.

The exercises are due to take place in Cameroon, with around 1,800 troops - from the rank and file to generals - expected to take part.

Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo Brazzaville, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Rwanda and Sao Tome will all take part.

Troops from the EU, the United States and Canada are also expected to take part in the exercise, named "Recamp V".

First launched in 1997, the exercises are aimed at giving African countries the military capacity to mount peacekeeping operations on the continent, the world's poorest.

Joint exercises have previously been held, at France's initiative, in 1997, 2000 and 2003. Donors will foot the bill, which is expected to cost millions of dollars.

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