The U.N. Security Council is pressing Sudan to allow military planners into Darfur to prepare for deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force. The council is also threatening sanctions against anyone who tries to stand in the way of the recently-signed Darfur peace accords.
A Council resolution demands that Sudan's government allow a team of military experts into Darfur within one week. That team is to determine what would be needed to quickly transfer control of the beleaguered African Union peacekeeping force to the United Nations.
The measure also threatens "strong and effective measures" against anyone who violates or stands in the way of the Darfur peace agreement signed last week in Abuja, Nigeria.
The unanimous vote came exactly a week after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the Council to act quickly to end the genocide and humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
The measure is legally binding under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, but it is milder than the draft the United States had been seeking. After some Council members objected to a language calling for deployment of NATO military planners, the wording was replaced by a vague reference to regional organizations.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton says the effect will be the same.
"Regional organization means NATO," he said. "There is not the slightest doubt in anybody's mind what it means, and as veterans of U.N. drafting know, there are ways of getting to same result. The most important aspect is we have a unanimous resolution invoking Chapter seven, because of the important role the U.N. can provide in protecting the innocent civilians in the Darfur region."
Bolton also says the threat of "strong and effective measures" means travel bans and financial restrictions like those imposed last month against four men accused of organizing and carrying out atrocities in Darfur.
Sudan has given conflicting signals about whether it will allow the United Nations to take over and build up the strength of the under-staffed African Union force in Darfur. But the AU Peace and Security Council agreed Monday to hand over the force as early as the end of September.
After Tuesday's Security Council action, Ambassador Bolton expressed hope that the transfer could take place even more quickly.
"There have been estimates, six months, nine months, those all seem long to us," he added. "One reason it is hard to make a more definitive estimate is we have not been able to get logistical planning personnel into the Darfur region to do the work they need to do, and that is very clear from this resolution we expect this to happen immediately."
The U.N. resolution gives Secretary-General Kofi Annan seven days after receiving the report of the military planning mission to recommend the size of the proposed U.N. force and project costs. He is expected to call for tripling the size of the current 7,000 strong AU mission.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when local rebels took up arms against Khartoum in a dispute over land and water resources. The Sudanese government responded by backing Arab militias, who waged a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels and their civilian supporters.
An estimated 200,000 people have died as a result of the conflict, most from hunger and disease, many others have fled their homes and are living in camps.