KHARTOUM 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 authorised 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, authorised 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 (987 million pounds) 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."
Sally Chin, Sudan analyst from the International Crisis Group think-tank, 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 authorise force for self-defence, 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, while adding that China's vote for the resolution was a step forward.
Differences over the interpretation of the resolution could also make life more difficult for the force. While Western countries stress the mandate for protecting civilians, Sudan emphasises the fact that it retains its authority.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who conducted months of talks with Khartoum, described the resolution as "historic and unprecedented" and said the mission would "make a clear and positive difference".
Activists from the Save Darfur Coalition welcomed the resolution but warned troop contributing countries they had to move quickly.
"The world has failed Darfur on past occasions, condemning millions to a horrific fate," it said in a statement.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the force needed to move forward side by side with a final peace deal.
"We need a political settlement, the rebel groups to return to the negotiating table, and the Sudanese government to accept the political settlement," he told RTL radio on Wednesday.
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 and Laure Bretton in Paris)