Georgia offers 150 troops to EU's Central Africa mission

Georgia is contributing 150 troops to a European Union military force 800 to 1,000-strong to be sent to the troubled Central African Republic, saying it is "morally right" to do so.

Speaking to AFP, Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Alasania said that for the small ex-Soviet Caucasus state neighbouring Russia "this is not only to give help to the EU but for us it is also a moral mission".

Georgia's contribution to the force to help French and African Union troops head off a horrific spiral of sectarian violence in CAR will be the nation's first involvement in an EU security and defence mission, and its first operation in Africa.

Alasania said nations had offered 600 troops so far, but its operation commander said the force would likely number between 800 and 1,000 depending on contributions from EU and other nations at talks next week.

French General Philippe Ponties, the operation commander, said the aim was to get the first troops on the ground in early March with the French-led force at full capability end April when its four-to-six month mandate begins.

The aim is to create "a safe haven" at Bangui airport and in two nearby districts to allow the return of refugees who have fled violence between Muslim and Christian communities. More than 100,000 people are living in dire conditions near the airport.

Many of the contributions are from eastern European nations, including Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Romania. Portugal and Spain are other likely contributors.

Almost a million people have been displaced and France has sent 2,000 troops to its former colony to assist almost 6,000 African Union peacekeepers.

"We are future members of the EU and we are future members of NATO, so our commitment is also a commitment to the common values," said Alasania, stressing that the decision had been approved by both the majority and the opposition in parliament.

Georgia, which along with Ukraine is one of six ex-Soviet satellites involved in the EU's Eastern Partnership scheme to bolster mutual ties, will also contribute a few officers to a separate EU military mission to train Mali's army, he said.