The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution that could pave the way for a possible U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia. That force would take over from the small African Union force currently there, but only under certain conditions. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Diplomats welcomed Thursday's resolution, which calls on the U.N. secretariat to continue contingency plans for the possible deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia if the political and security situation stabilize.

The British-drafted resolution was adopted unanimously in the 15-member council. It also supports expanding the UN's presence in Somalia, by relocating its political office from Kenya's capital to Somalia. It also lays out the possibility of sanctions for parties that block the political process or undermine stability.

Britain's ambassador, and this month's council president, John Sawers, said the resolution is a "step forward", but cautioned that the United Nations cannot bring peace to Somalia overnight.

"But now we hope, because of the efforts of the Transitional Federal Government, because of the political process that has begun to broaden the basis of that government, we hope that we are seeing the beginnings of a move toward peace and stability which the U.N. will be able to support," said

John Sawers. "It's a long way off, many things can go wrong, but the Security Council is backing those efforts, not just rhetorically, but in practical terms as well."

Council member South Africa strongly supports sending peacekeepers to Somalia, and it's ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, welcomed the resolution's adoption and the possiblity of sending UN peacekeepers to take over from the AU force known as AMISOM.

"I think we adopted a very good resolution," said Dumisani Kumalo. "And for the first time we have a resolution that sends a signal to the Somali people that if the conditions on security on the ground are right, if the political process is in place, then the Security Council will then consider sending a peacekeeping troop to takeover from AMISOM."

He said this resolution demonstrates a shift in how the council is relating to Somalia and that it has "heard the cries of the Somali people."

U.N. peacekeeping officials have expressed concerns about sending potential peacekeepers into Somalia while the security situation remains inconsistent throughout the country and the Transitional Federal Government has little capacity to maintain law and order.

Somalia has been plagued by unrest since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The United Nations warns that some two million Somalis are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the instability and violence.