KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudan promised on Wednesday to cooperate with deployment of up to 26,000 U.N. and African Union troops and police to quell violence in Darfur after the U.N. Security Council authorized the force.
The mission will be able to use force to protect civilians and the world’s biggest aid operation, but the resolution was watered down and no longer allows troops to seize illegal arms. There was also no threat of sanctions if Sudan fails to comply.
“It is practical. It’s taken into consideration most of our concerns — we are comfortable with the resolution,” Foreign Minister Lam Akol told Reuters.
“Now that we have been part of the discussion we will definitely cooperate with it,” he said, adding that the government had no problem with deploying the entire force, which is expected to take up to a year.
The mission, authorized on Tuesday, will absorb an African Union force that has failed to end violence in Sudan’s remote west, where international experts say about 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million driven from their homes since 2003.
Sudan puts the death toll at 9,000 and accuses Western media of exaggerating the conflict, which began when mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms complaining of neglect by Khartoum.
The U.N. resolution authorizes up to 19,555 military personnel and 6,432 civilian police, although it could take many months to get countries to send them. The operation is expected to cost $2 billion in the first year.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed the Security Council resolution, adding the United States expected Sudan’s government to “live up to its commitments.”
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana pledged support and urged rebel factions to participate constructively in talks this week to prepare for negotiations with Khartoum.
Sally Chin, Sudan analyst from the International Crisis Group thinktank, said the unanimous vote — including Sudan’s ally China — sent a strong signal.
“Just because the ‘sticks’ of sanctions was removed from the text...does not mean they don’t still exist as a tool, as the UK and the U.S. made very clear,” she said.
The resolution invokes Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, under which the United Nations can authorize force for self-defense, to ensure the free movement of aid workers and protect civilians under attack, but it acknowledges Sudan’s sovereignty.
The resolution also no longer allows the force to seize illegal arms, saying it can only monitor such weapons.
“All of these provisions were important and their deletion marks a serious weakening of the resolution,” said U.S. academic and Sudan expert Eric Reeves.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who conducted months of talks with Khartoum, described the resolution as “historic and unprecedented”.
Activists from the Save Darfur Coalition welcomed the resolution but warned troop contributing countries they had to move quickly, saying: “The world has failed Darfur on past occasions, condemning millions to a horrific fate.”
One of Sudan’s largest opposition parties, Umma, urged the international community to hold Khartoum to its word.
Several European countries voiced readiness to send troops. Nigeria said it planned to send a fourth battalion. Senegal said it would send more soldiers if they have a clear right to defend themselves.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the force needed to move forward side by side with a final peace deal.
The rebels themselves have now split into a dozen groups, many fighting one another. The United Nations and African Union are hosting a meeting in Tanzania from Friday to try to unite the groups before peace talks with the government.
Additional reporting by Sue Pleming from Egypt, David Brunnstrom in Brussels and Laure Bretton in Paris