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Friday, July 28, 2006

U.N. Council Approves Mission to Darfur

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006; Page A18

UNITED NATIONS, May 16 -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a legally binding resolution Tuesday that instructs the United Nations to replace an underfinanced African Union peacekeeping mission that is struggling to halt the killing of civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan. The council threatened sanctions against anyone who impedes peace efforts there.

The U.S.-sponsored resolution, which passed 15 to 0, is aimed at speeding the transition from an African force of about 7,000 troops to a much larger U.N. mission of as many as 20,000 international peacekeepers. The council demanded that Khartoum supply visas for U.N. and African Union military planners within a week to travel to Darfur and prepare for the transition.

Senior Sudanese officials have not formally agreed to allow the United Nations to send a new peacekeeping mission to Darfur, citing concerns that U.N. forces may be ordered to arrest Sudanese officials suspected of committing war crimes.

But senior U.N. officials noted that the resolution was passed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced through the threat of sanctions or military force.

"Now that the council has spoken unanimously, we fully expect that the U.N. assessment mission will be let in," said the U.N.'s top spokesman, Stephane Dujarric.

Tuesday's action came one day after the African Union foreign minister agreed to hand over authority for the Darfur peacekeeping mission to the United Nations as soon as September. U.N. officials, however, said it could take as long as six to nine months to get a U.N. peacekeeping mission running.

The Bush administration, which has characterized the violence in Darfur as genocide, welcomed the council resolution as an important step in the international effort to stem the violence there.

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States would "augment our efforts to assist in the transitional planning process, which we can do both through U.S. assets and through NATO where that's appropriate." He said it was "premature yet to discuss" what larger role for the United States there "might or might not be."

The violence in Darfur began in early 2003 when two Darfurian rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, raided police stations and military outposts. The Sudanese military reacted by arming, training and supporting Arab militiamen, known as the Janjaweed, who destroyed thousands of villages and drove more than 2 million civilians from their homes. An estimated 100,000 to 450,000 people have died as a result of violence, disease or starvation.

The Sudanese government and the main Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Army, signed a May 5 peace agreement. But two rebel factions have refused to endorse the pact. The African Union has threatened to impose sanctions on any rebel groups that fail to sign the accord by May 31.

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