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U.N. approves peacekeeping mission in Darfur

UNITED NATIONS – The Security Council on Tuesday authorized a massive U.N. peacekeeping operation to deploy to Darfur in an effort to protect civilians and aid workers in Sudan’s conflict-wracked region.

The council voted 15-0 to begin sending a joint U.N.- African Union force of as many as 26,000 troops and police to Darfur before the end of the year to quell violence that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in four years.

The full force will take about a year to muster and could cost $2 billion, said peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno, who added that a substantial number of troops will arrive before year’s end.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolution “historic and unprecedented” and said it would help “improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan’s history.”

The resolution is the culmination of a nine-month-long fight with the Khartoum government over sending troops to Darfur, where government-linked janjaweed militias have systematically attacked non-Arab ethnic groups since a rebel uprising began there in 2003.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir first agreed to the force last November, but backtracked several times.

Bashir finally assented in June, provided the force was mostly African, and was led by the AU. The U.N. agreed to the composition of the forces, but insisted on holding command.

The final resolution narrowed the circumstances under which the troops can use force: to protect themselves, aid workers and civilians.

It also pledged that the force would not usurp the responsibilities of the government of Sudan.

In addition, the resolution omitted mention of sanctions if Sudan did not comply, and it said that the force can monitor illegal arms present in Darfur, but not disarm rebels or pro-government militias, as originally drafted.

“They said in the very first paragraph that our sovereignty will be fully safeguarded and protected,” said Abdalhaleem. “We stressed it of course. This is one of the red lines we can not cross.”

Khartoum has cited sovereignty issues in resisting attempts to bring war-crimes suspects to justice. In May, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants against a leader of the janjaweed militia and a Sudanese government minister.

Neither suspect has been handed over.

Negotiation on the final language of the resolution, led by Britain and France, continued to the last minute before Tuesday’s vote.