The Security Council agreed today to deploy a United Nations peacekeeping force of more than 17,000 troops in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region by the end of the year to try to end the spiralling violence and displacement there that has led senior UN officials to warn of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.
Twelve Council members voted in favour of a resolution to expand the mandate of the existing UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) from southern Sudan to cover Darfur as well. China, Russia and Qatar abstained in the vote.
Resolution 1706 “invites the consent” of the Sudanese Government to the deployment, although Khartoum has said on several occasions that it is opposed to any kind of UN force taking over the role of the African Union’s (AU) current operation – known by the acronym AMIS – in Darfur.
Under the resolution, UNMIS will have up to 17,300 additional troops and as many as 3,300 civilian police officers, and must take over AMIS’ duties by no later than 31 December.
Before AMIS hands over to the expanded UNMIS, the UN has been authorized to provide air, engineering, logistics, communications and other support to AMIS.
After the vote in the Council, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, one of the sponsors of the resolution, said it was imperative to act now to stop the violence, where scores of thousands of people have been killed and 2 million others forced to flee their homes since 2003.
“We cannot afford to delay,” he stressed, asserting that every day lost only extended the genocide in the remote and impoverished region on Sudan’s western flank.
Earlier this week Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland warned the Council that “a man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale” looms within weeks unless the Council acts immediately.
Mr. Egeland said “we could see hundreds of thousands of deaths” if aid operations – already at grave risk because of rising numbers of attacks against individual workers, dramatically reduced access to those in need, and massive funding shortfalls – collapse.
Ambassador Wang Guangya of China said that while his country concurred that UN troops should take over the work of AMIS as soon as possible, the timing of the vote and the fact that the resolution did not specify “with the consent of” the Sudanese Government meant they had to abstain.
The resolution was adopted as Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a letter he had sent to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir endorsing the creation of a UN force in Darfur and calling for continuing discussions with Khartoum on this issue.
In the letter, Mr. Annan voiced concern that the Sudanese Government’s own formal plan to restore stability to Darfur and protect civilians there does not provide for the transition from an AU force to a UN operation.
He said only an impartial peacekeeping force like the proposed UNMIS expansion would have the resources and capacity to effectively support the implemention of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA), which was signed by the Government and some of the region’s rebel groups in May.
Mr. Annan also expressed alarm over the recent deployment of large numbers of Sudanese troops in Darfur, which Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi told the Council earlier this month was an apparent sign that the Government is determined to pursue a major military offensive there soon.
In a separate development, UNMIS issued a statement today in Khartoum deploring the murder of an aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The driver was killed following a hijacking in North Darfur state. The man’s death brings to 12 the number of aid workers who have been killed in Darfur this year – almost all of them in the past two months.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan Manuel da Silva said he was especially concerned that aid workers are being attacked while they are attempting to help people suffering in Darfur.
“The UN calls upon everyone in Darfur to recognize the neutrality of all humanitarian staff, and the vital work that they are doing, and to ensure their safety,” he said.