Security Council presses Sudan

U.N. moves toward takeover of peacekeeping

May 17, 2006|By MAGGIE FARLEY | MAGGIE FARLEY,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council passed a resolution yesterday to accelerate transfer of control of an African Union force into a larger force led by the U.N. in Sudan's Darfur region. It threatened sanctions for violators of a recent peace agreement.

The resolution is meant to jump-start a planned peacekeeping force of up to 20,000 U.N. soldiers that has been blocked by the Sudanese government. It also demands that Khartoum allow an assessment team of military experts into Darfur within one week.

The troops are meant to protect civilians and help people driven from their villages by government-backed militias to go home safely. The African Union has about 7,300 under-equipped troops spread thinly across a region the size of France.

The resolution threatens a travel ban and assets freeze for any person or group that impedes a May 5 peace agreement signed by the Sudanese government and the largest rebel force in the region. It also calls on two other rebel groups to swiftly join the agreement, which aims to end fighting in a region that has seen the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the displacement of 2 million.

Sudan has given mixed signals about whether it will allow the United Nations to take over and add to the African Union force in Darfur, saying it regarded the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers as a foreign intervention. But the A.U. Peace and Security Council agreed Monday to hand over the force by the end of September.

Yesterday, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said he hoped the transfer would come sooner.

"There have been estimates, six months, nine months. Those all seem long to us," he said. "One reason it is hard to make a more definitive estimate is we have not been able to get logistical planning personnel into the Darfur region to do the work they need to do, and that is very clear from this resolution we expect this to happen immediately."

China and Russia, which were reluctant to back the sanctions portion of the resolution, ultimately voted for it after the African Union endorsed it and welcomed the U.N.'s help in a statement Monday. But each expressed reservations and insisted that deployment of the U.N. forces be done under the direction of Sudan's government. Khartoum grudgingly lifted its opposition to the peacekeepers after the peace deal.

Bolton acknowledged that some language had been softened, including a reference to NATO planning and help that some council members opposed, to gain a unanimous adoption.

Khartoum had refused for weeks to allow the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, to visit the country. When he did arrive last week, his entourage was attacked in a camp for displaced people who thought help was not coming fast enough. An interpreter with his party was killed.

The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when rebel groups took up arms against Khartoum in a dispute over land and water. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militias, who systematically attacked the rebels' villages, driving millions from their homes.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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