By: John Boonstra on December 09, 2008 This is worse than many people may realize: The European Union sidestepped an appeal by the United Nations on Monday to dispatch troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in the east of the country where war has displaced a quarter of a million civilians. Although a statement by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said a formal response to the request from Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, would be forthcoming in due course, it was clear that differences among member states made the deployment unlikely. The statement came four days after Mr Ban wrote to the EU saying a European-led force was urgently required to ensure humanitarian aid supplies reached those who had fled fighting between government and rebel forces in Congo’s North Kivu province. The EU deployment would fill the security gap until the UN’s own peace force, Monuc, was reinforced, a process Mr Ban said could take another four months. This is not the first time that Europe has demurred on this question. Nor is it the first time that an urgent request has been lodged in abeyance. The head of MONUC head, Alan Doss, made his request for more troops months ago, and — even though it was quite clear that troops would take months more to deploy once authorized — this need was met, belatedly, only once fighting in eastern Congo reached a fever pitch. MONUC cannot be put in the position of acting as Congo’s national army — which, the FT reports, is utterly in shambles. A rapid reaction force is desperately needed, and the British, the Germans, and the other countries responsible for torpedoing this request should be made to feel the heat for their reluctance. Waiting for the situation to get even worse in the next few months is not an acceptable option.