By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Ukraine crisis is hampering the European Union's plans to send a peacekeeping force to Central African Republic because nervous eastern European countries want to keep their troops at home rather than send them to Africa, diplomats said on Friday.
The EU has drawn up plans to send 800 to 1,000 soldiers to Central African Republic to join 6,000 African and 2,000 French troops, who have struggled to stop the fighting that started when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power a year ago in the majority Christian state.
But the plan has been jeopardized by the failure of European governments to provide key soldiers and equipment for the force, EU sources said on Thursday.
EU diplomats said that there was a link between the problems facing the Central African Republic force and the crisis in Ukraine, where Russian forces have occupied the Crimea region, raising tensions throughout the region.
"It is clear that the situation in Ukraine has impacted on the willingness of some of the likely contributors both in the EU and outside the EU to be necessarily ready to deploy to Central African Republic," one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"There are some potential troop contributors, both eastern European EU states and ... partners of the EU, that were considering troop contributions (but) firming that up as a definite deployment hasn't yet happened and one would assume it's because it's an unstable neighborhood," he said.
A second EU diplomatic source said the Ukraine crisis was "not a facilitating factor" when it came to raising troops for the EU mission to Central African Republic.
Neither diplomat could give specific examples of how the Ukraine crisis had affected the EU's plans but Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and non-EU member Georgia are among countries reported to be considering contributing to the force.
SECURITY IN CAPITAL
The goal of the EU force would be to provide security in the capital Bangui and at Bangui airport, where around 70,000 people who have fled the violence are living in dire conditions.
The EU has so far held four conferences at which EU governments and some countries from outside the 28-nation EU offered troops and equipment for the operation.
But there are still gaps in essential areas, such as infantry units, headquarters staff and logistics, leading the commander of the force, French Major-General Philippe Ponties, to conclude he does not yet have the resources necessary to launch the mission, EU officials said.
Failure to send the force to Africa would be an embarrassment for the European Union, which has been trying to burnish its credentials as a security organization, and a setback for France, which has called for more European support for its efforts in Central African Republic.
France urged its EU partners to do more to help the operation on Friday, saying the EU must not shirk its responsibilities for international security.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)