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Thursday, August 31, 2006

U.N. votes for force in Darfur; Sudan says "no"

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday voted to create a United Nations peacekeeping force in Sudan's Darfur region to avert a new humanitarian disaster, but the Khartoum government rejected the resolution as "illegal."

The vote to send the force to Darfur once Sudan has agreed to its deployment passed with 12 votes in favor, none against and abstentions from Russia, China and Qatar, the only Arab council member.

The United Nations wants to replace and absorb an African Union force in Darfur, which has only enough money to exist until its mandate expires on September 30. It has been unable to halt the humanitarian catastrophe in the west of the country.

The resolution calls for up to 22,500 U.N. troops and police officers and an immediate injection of air, engineering and communications support for the 7,000-member African force.

The measure, drafted by Britain and the United States, is designed to allow planning and recruitment of troops for an eventual handover as well as to put pressure on Khartoum.

"It is imperative that we move immediately to implement it fully to stop the tragic events unfolding in Darfur," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said. "Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide."

The Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003, when non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government. In response, the government mobilized Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have been accused of murder, rape and looting.

Fighting, disease and hunger have killed some 200,000 people and driven some 2.5 million into squalid camps.

Rebel groups have splintered and are now also conducting atrocities. Bloodshed has only increased since the government signed a peace agreement with one rebel group in May and Sudan is planning to send some 10,500 troops into Darfur, which the West fears will lead to full-scale war.


In Washington, the State Department's top official on Africa, Jendayi Frazer, who met Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir this week, said she believed he would eventually consent to the U.N. force.

But in Khartoum, Ali Tamin Fartak, a presidential adviser, told Reuters, "Our stand is very clear, that the Sudanese government has not been consulted and it is not appropriate to pass a resolution before they seek the permission of Sudan."

Another presidential adviser, Majzoub al-Khalifa, told Al Jazeera television that the resolution was "illegal."

Still, Britain's deputy U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce said, "The test before the council today was whether it was prepared to act to mandate that U.N. mission and assume its responsibilities to the people of Darfur. The adoption of this resolution shows that it is"

Russia and China supported the force but said Sudan's consent was needed first. Qatar pointed to Sudan's plan to send troops to Darfur, which it called positive.

A senior State Department official, Kristen Silverberg, said it was "inexplicable" that Russia and China had abstained "in light of the very grave and serious and deteriorating security situation."

The resolution allows U.N. troops to use force to protect U.N. personnel and facilities and prevent attacks and threats against civilians.

U.N. officials have warned of a catastrophe if help does not come soon. Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator, said the people driven into camps are in danger from both pro-government militia and rebel groups.
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