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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Decides to Send Peace Force to Sudan

ReutersPeople swimming in the Suez Canal as a U.S. aircraft carrier passes through the waterway near Cairo on Wednesday.
UNITED NATIONS -- The UN Security Council unanimously approved a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force for Darfur to help end four years of rape and slaughter of civilians in the vast Sudanese region.

The force -- the first joint peacekeeping operation by the African Union and the United Nations -- will replace the beleaguered 7,000-strong AU force now in Darfur no later than Dec. 31.

While the council urged speedy deployment, the bulk of the force is not expected to be on the ground until next year, and the ultimate troop strength depends on the willingness of UN member states to contribute troops, police, logistics and sophisticated military hardware.

If deployed fully, it will be the largest peacekeeping operation in the world.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday's "historic and unprecedented resolution" would send "a clear and powerful signal" of the UN's commitment "to improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan's history."

But Ban, who has made Darfur a top priority since taking over as UN chief on Jan. 1, stressed that beefing up the peacekeeping force must be accompanied by stepped up efforts to get all combatants to the peace table and end the conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people and uprooted 2.5 million.

The secretary-general said it was crucial that a meeting of the parties to the conflict in Arusha, Tanzania, later this week, "yields positive results so as to pave the way for negotiations and, ultimately, a peace agreement."

The resolution's approval by a 15-0 vote culminated weeks of negotiations between its main sponsors, Britain and France, and the Sudanese government and its key backers, including China, which imports two-thirds of Sudan's oil.

The text was watered down several times to remove the threat of sanctions, which Sudan and China opposed, authorization for the new force to seize or collect arms, and language that Sudan's UN ambassador called "ugly" and "awful."

The Sudanese envoy, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, told reporters Tuesday that the government would discuss the resolution, but said it "contained many positive elements, and also it went to considerable extent to satisfy our concerns."

The conflict in Darfur began in February 2003 when ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they consider decades of neglect and discrimination by the Arab-dominated government.

Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed -- a charge it denies.

The poorly equipped and underfunded AU force has been unable to stop the fighting, and neither has the Darfur Peace Agreement, signed a year ago by the government and one rebel group. Other rebel factions called the deal insufficient, and fighting has continued.