British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday proposed a 15,000-strong EU battle force dedicated to intervening in African conflicts and deployable within 10 days of a political instruction. He said the force should be ready next year. \nBlair made the bold proposal just 24 hours after the Iraq Survey Group reported that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. The talk of battle plans underlined the fact that despite the controversy over Iraq, Blair has not lost his fervor for military interventions. \nIt formed part of a wider package to tackle crises across Africa, including generous debt and aid proposals designed to take the continent out of its cycle of poverty, disease and instability. \nThe EU brigade, capable of more rapid deployment than any other multinational force,would intervene with the sanction of the African Union or the UN. The intention is that it would hold the line until an AU or UN force could be assembled. \nThe force would be formed of battle groups of 1,500 with bigger countries like France, Germany, the UK and Poland supplying their own groups and smaller countries contributing to other groups. \nSuch rapid action in Sudan might have prevented the massive refugee crisis and killings in Darfur. A 3,000-strong AU force, largely Nigerian, is still weeks from deployment. \nBlair was speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the second session of the Commission for Africa, which is preparing a comprehensive plan on how the G8 industrialized countries and the EU can help Africa next year, which Blair has dubbed the year of decision for Africa. \nHis speech echoed his original call for humanitarian intervention set out in Chicago in 1999. UK officials are seeking to produce an updated version of these Chicago principles to take into account the post-Iraq world. \nBlair, speaking to a hall of leading African politicians and economists yesterday, described the drive to restore hope for Africa as "one noble cause worth fighting for" in an era of cynicism and disengagement from the political process. \nExplaining his plan for EU battle groups dedicated to the continent, he said: "There will be times when Africa cannot stop a conflict on its own. Then the rest of the international community must be there to help. That is why I want Africa to be the top priority for the EU's new rapidly deployable battle groups and to get them operational initially as soon as possible in 2005... These groups would allow the EU to respond to a crisis in Africa in 10 days." \nBlair also revealed that Britain will train 20,000 African troops over the next five years. \nHis visit to one of the world's poorest countries coincided with a strong attack on Europe's aid strategy from the the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. \nBrown said Brussels should spend an extra billion euros a year on low-income countries in Africa and Asia, calling it "nonsensical" that the EU was focusing its financial assistance on relatively rich countries in the Balkans. \nAfrican countries are saddled with US$305 billion in debt, and their products account for barely 2 percent of world trade. Total foreign investment in the continent has shrunk to US$11 billion a year.
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