The U.N. Security Council has taken the first steps toward establishing a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Sudan's war-torn Darfur region.
On the second day of his month-long Security Council presidency, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton established Darfur as a priority item. He won unanimous consent for a statement calling on the U.N. secretariat to prepare for transferring the beleaguered African Union force in Darfur, known as AMIS, to U.N. control.
"The Security Council, therefore, requests the secretary-general initiate contingency planning without delay, jointly with the African Union, in close and continuing consultations with the Security Council on a range of options for a possible transition from AMIS to a United Nations operation," he said.
Diplomats say the change of command and a hoped for reinforcement of the 7,000-strong AU peacekeeping force could take several months. A number of procedural obstacles must be overcome, including winning the Sudanese government's approval of the deal.
Ambassador Bolton said Friday it is still too early to speculate on whether U.S. or European Union troops might participate in Sudan peacekeeping operations. But he said the Security Council presidential statement is important because it signals the Council's intention to move as quickly as possible, and authorizes the secretariat to begin recruiting troops for what he called a complicated and logistically difficult mission.
"The secretariat has not been asking governments for commitments for a U.N. force because it didn't have any authority to do so, so now with this authority clearly in hand through the authority of this presidential statement, they can begin to ask the questions of governments that might be considering participating in the operation in Darfur," he said.
The statement issued Friday says the Security Council looks forward to an early decision from the African Union on turning over its force to U.N. control. It also suggests joining the force with another U.N. peacekeeping mission already operating in southern Sudan.
The top U.N. envoy to Sudan, Jan Pronk, told the Council last month that efforts to bring peace to Darfur had failed.
In an article published the following day in the Washington Post newspaper, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the transition to a U.N. force in Darfur "inevitable". But he acknowledged that the mission will be difficult, saying it must be larger and better-equipped than the African Union force.
In what was seen as a call to U.S. and European leaders, Mr. Annan wrote "those countries that have the required military assets must be ready to deploy them".