The Darfur conflict may be coming closer to an end following the United Nations Security Council's unanimous decision on Tuesday to deploy a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force to Sudan's troubled region. The four-year-old conflict, referred to as a genocide by the US, has caused more than 200,000 deaths and dislocated more than 2.5 million people. The UN resolution managed to win the support of the traditionally resistant Sudanese and Chinese governments, but some observers say there's still room for it to fail.
The force will be largely composed of Africans and will consist of nearly 20,000 military personnel and 6,000 police officers. Known as the UN African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the force is expected to select its commanders by October and take over operations from the 7,000 African Union (AU) peacekeepers currently in Sudan by the end of the year, reports the UN News Service. For the first 12 months, UN forces will incorporate the AU troops into their mission.
UNAMID is tasked with acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to support the "early and effective implementation" of last year's Darfur Peace Agreement between the Government and the rebels, and it is also mandated to protect civilians, prevent armed attacks and ensure the security of aid workers and its own personnel and facilities.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the mission "historic and unprecedented." It will come after months of Sudanese resistance and will cost about $2 billion in its first year, reports The New York Times.
"You are sending a clear and powerful signal of your commitment to improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan's history," [Mr. Ban] told the Security Council.
China, too, posed a hurdle to passing the Darfur resolution. One of the Sudan's strongest political supporters and the No. 1 consumer of its oil, China had objected to prior attempts to sanction Sudan or send peacekeeping forces there. However, "British officials said that China's oil interests in Sudan were eventually outweighed by anxiety about a possible international human-rights backlash over Darfur aimed at next year's Olympic Games in Beijing," reports the Guardian.
Since agreeing to support the UNAMID mission, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya described a peace agreement as a "fundamental prerequisite" for lasting stability in Darfur. Mr. Guangya also emphasized the importance of addressing Sudan's lack of development, which many see as the root of Darfur's problems. He said it is critical to the peace process, reports China's Xinhua News Agency.
"The international community should take a long-term perspective, work out at an early date a development strategy for Darfur in consultation with the government of Sudan, and provide more input to economic and social development in Darfur, so as to fundamentally improve the livelihood of the people and uproot the source of conflicts," the ambassador added.
Although the resolution does not mention sanctions in the event of Sudan's non-compliance, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown threatened to impose them if the killing continues. The Independent reports that Mr. Brown sent a "blunt warning" to the Sudanese government, which up until April had repeatedly denied international troops access to Darfur, not to interfere with UN forces.
"We must be clear: if any party blocks progress and the killings continue, I and others will redouble our efforts to impose further sanctions, " he said. "I am not prepared to let this tragedy continue without action."
Ban says the mission will "make a clear and positive difference," despite numerous concessions that had to be made to bring Sudan to the table. In addition to removing the threat of sanctions from the Security Council resolution, other areas were scaled back as well. UNAMID forces cannot seize and dispose of illegal weapons, for example; they can only monitor them, reports Reuters. After participating in negotiations, Sudanese officials have agreed to cooperate with the resolution.
"[The resolution] is practical. It's taken into consideration most of our concerns – we are comfortable with the resolution," Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told Reuters.
"We can live with it," he said, adding the government had no problems with the timetable of deployment, which is expected to take up to a year to get the entire force in place.
"Now that we have been part of the discussion we will definitely cooperate with it," he added.
While many have expressed hope that UNAMID forces may spell the end of Darfur's troubles, longtime observers caution that concrete action must follow. British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry noted that the Khartoum government and rebels have broken agreements with the UN Security Council before, and this latest resolution is only the first step, reports the Los Angeles Times.
"The catastrophe of Darfur will not be ended by the raising of 15 hands in this chamber. The suffering will not be ended by our vote," he said.
"But today's decision and the actions that flow from it offer the prospect of a new start for Darfur. That is our hope. That is our goal."