The African Union (search) on Wednesday agreed to beef up its peacekeeping force in Sudan's western Darfur region and send hundreds of civilian police officers in an effort to end violence that has driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes.

The African Union's Peace and Security Council (search) approved the increase in the size of its force in Darfur from 390 to 3,320 troops and civilian police, said Said Djinnit, head of the 16-member council.

The force will include 450 unarmed military observers, a major increase from 80 currently there, to monitor a shaky cease-fire between two rebel groups fighting government troops and allied militia.

The $220 million, one-year operation will be funded mainly by the European Union (search) and the United States, Djinnit said.

"We hope to have the enhanced force in the region by the end of this month, or very early next month," Djinnit said.

Darfur's troubles stem from long-standing tensions between nomadic Arab tribes and their African farming neighbors over dwindling water and agricultural land. Those tensions exploded into violence in February 2003 when two African rebel groups took up arms over what they regard as unjust treatment by the government in their struggle with Arab countrymen.

An estimated 70,000 people have died since Darfur conflict broke out early last year, according to U.N. figures. Nearly 1.5 million more have fled to refugee camps.