U.N. Weighs Multinational Force in Darfur

The U.N. Security Council is set to approve a resolution authorizing a joint African Union-United Nations force for Darfur, Sudan. The measure would send up to 26,000 troops and police to the vast, arid region in an effort to quell violence there: Millions of people have been displaced and more than 200,000 killed.

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The United Nations Security Council has approved a large peacekeeping force for Darfur, Sudan. U.N. diplomats have been talking about the need for peacekeepers for years now, but getting Sudan's approval has been a major stumbling block. Now, some advocates say diplomats will have to keep up the pressure on Sudan if they want today's resolution to work.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: After several rewrites, diplomats at the U.N. agreed on a resolution to pave the way for a joint African Union United Nations force. It calls for nearly 26,000 troops and police. Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who was visiting the United Nations today says he'll work quickly to help get the force deployed.

Prime Minister GORDON BROWN (United Kingdom): Today is an important decision day for Darfur and for change. The situation in Darfur is the greatest humanitarian disaster the world is facing today. Over 200,000 dead, two million people displaced, four million on food aid.

KELEMEN: Brown said while peacekeepers can help protect civilians, diplomats will ramp up their efforts to forge a peace deal.

Prime Minister BROWN: We must be clear if any party blocks progress and if killings continue, I and others, will redouble our efforts to enforce further sanctions.

KELEMEN: The threat of sanctions, however, was dropped from the latest Security Council resolution, much to the dismay of some members of Congress who have been outspoken on the issue of Darfur. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, was on the Senate floor today, complaining that the resolution was watered down to appease Sudan and one of its supporters on the council - China.

Representative ROBERT MENENDEZ (Democrat, New Jersey): There will be no reference to sanctions. There'll be no right to seize and dispose of illegal arms. There will be no reference to the Janjaweed, the brutal pro-Khartoum militia force responsible for many of the atrocities. And while I understand the need to negotiate a resolution what will pass, we cannot let Sudan's ambassador have veto power over these lives.

KELEMEN: Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin pointed out that the latest resolution is actually a step back from where the international community was a year ago when it passed the resolution authorizing a large U.N. force. Sudan blocked it, agreeing only after drawn out negotiations to let the U.N. build on a weak and underfunded African Union force already on the ground. And while President Omar al-Bashir eventually endorsed the idea of a joint U.N.-AU hybrid force, he's repeatedly said he wants only African troops on Sudanese soil. Larry Rossin of the Save Darfur Coalition says Security Council members will have to hold its feet to the fire.

Mr. LARRY ROSSIN (Senior International Coordinator, Save Darfur Coalition): This resolution goes beyond what Bashir really wants. And therefore, the question will be having passed the resolution that Bashir objects to, will the Security Council this year insist on him implementing it or will they allow him to stonewall it as they did last year when they passed another resolution like this.

KELEMEN: Rossin, a former U.S. ambassador and U.N. official says the resolution does spell out a fairly robust mandate for the hybrid force to protect civilians and aid workers. The United Nations is expected to set up a command headquarters by the end of October and countries are to finalize their troop contributions in the next 30 days. Rossin says it's late but still needed.

Mr. ROSSIN: All we can say is there are still people to be saved, so better late than never if they get out there. But that takes political will again and it takes urgent work effort.

KELEMEN: And though it could take many months to reach the goal of 26,000 troops and police, Rossin said even getting some in place soon could make a difference.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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