UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council authorized on Tuesday up to 26,000 troops and police for Darfur and approved the use of force to protect civilians in Sudan's arid western region.
Expected to cost more than $2 billion (1 billion pounds) in the first year, the combined "hybrid" U.N.-African Union operation aims to quell violence in Darfur, where more than 2.1 million people have been driven into camps and an estimated 200,000 have died over the past four years.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who conducted months of talks with Khartoum, described the unanimously approved resolution as "historic and unprecedented" and said the mission would "make a clear and positive difference."
The resolution, number 1769, invokes Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, under which the United Nations can authorize force. The measure allows the use of force for self-defence, to ensure the free movement of humanitarian workers and to protect civilians under attack, but acknowledges Sudan's sovereignty.
The resolution, which has been watered down several times, no longer allows the new force to seize and dispose of illegal arms, saying it can only monitor such weapons.
Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, told reporters, "I am comfortable with the resolution." He said the use of Chapter 7 was limited and that negotiators "went to great lengths to satisfy our concerns."
The resolution authorizes up to 19,555 military personnel and 6,432 civilian police, which if deployed would be the world's largest peacekeeping force.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called on Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, to provide "maximum cooperation" in deploying the peacekeepers or face sanctions.
"If Sudan does not comply with this resolution, the United States will move for the swift adoption of unilateral and multilateral measures," Khalilzad told the council.
"Now Sudan faces a choice," he said. "Sudan can choose the path of cooperation or defiance."
Visiting Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a similar sanctions threat in a speech earlier in the day.
The revised text, however, dropped a threat to impose further sanctions if Khartoum balked.
China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, who chaired the meeting, said the purpose of the resolution was to launch the hybrid force "rather than threaten sanctions."
The measure was negotiated by Britain and France and also sponsored by Italy, Belgium, Congo Republic, Slovakia and Peru.
Asked why Washington did not join the sponsors, Khalilzad said, "The important thing is that we voted for it and we support it." Diplomats speculated the United States did not approve of some modifications in the draft.
Rape, looting, murder and government bombardment drove millions from their homes in Darfur, where mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in early 2003, accusing Khartoum of neglecting their desert region. The rebels have now split into a dozen groups, many fighting one another.
Infantry soldiers will be drawn mainly from African nations unless not enough Africans can be recruited. Personnel from elsewhere in the world are expected to be used for specialized engineering and in command headquarters.
The resolution calls on member states to finalize their contributions to the new force, called UNAMID, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, within 30 days. UNAMID would incorporate the under-equipped and under-financed 7,000 African Union troops now in Darfur.
Sudan, after months of hesitation, has agreed to the troop numbers, but U.N. officials expect it will take a year to get the entire force in place. Khartoum also has to agree to allow units from individual countries into Sudan.
The new headquarters should be running by October 31, and U.N. members were urged to cover costs as soon as possible for the AU troops. The combined force is to be in charge of all operations by December 31.
Jane Holl Lute, an assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, said the department would work "non stop" between now and the end of the year, to get accommodations, fuel and communication as well as General Assembly financial approval.
"It is an unprecedented undertaking, in scale, complexity and importance," she told reporters.