UNITED NATIONS – After weeks of negotiations, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted Thursday to send 10,700 peacekeepers to Sudan (search) to monitor an accord ending a 21-year civil war between the government and southern rebels.
The Security Council (search) hopes the move will not only create lasting peace in southern Sudan after the civil war but help end current violence in the country's western Darfur region, where the number of dead from a conflict between government-backed militias and rebels is now estimated at 180,000.
The U.S.-backed resolution asks that the new mission work with an African Union (search) peace mission in Sudan "with a view toward expeditiously reinforcing the effort to foster peace in Darfur."
"We remain very concerned and disturbed by the situation in Darfur," Deputy U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday said. "And we will continue working with our council colleagues to address that important question in the days ahead."
The document does not address two issues that have been the key reason why it's taken so long for the Security Council to take action on Sudan: how to hold war crimes suspects from Darfur (search) accountable, and whether to impose new sanctions on the country.
Several members of the council want the cases referred to the International Criminal Court, a body that the United States opposes. China and Russia are the chief opponents of sanctions.
Early on, the council had hoped to deal with all those issues in one resolution. But because agreement couldn't be found, the United States decided to split the issues into three resolutions.
Thursday's resolution on the peacekeeping mission had the widest support, and passed easily. The Americans had hoped to deal with the other two issues, on accountability and sanctions, later on.
However, on Wednesday, France presented it's own resolution that would prosecute Sudanese war crimes suspects before the International Criminal Court. That would have forced the United States to choose between accepting a body it opposes or casting a politically damaging veto.
Early Thursday, France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said he decided not to seek a vote becuase "some delegations" wanted more time to consider it, and it would probably be submitted next week.
The United States has repeatedly says it opposes the ICC, but has not said directly if it will veto.
A veto could give the appearance that the United States opposed the punishment of those responsible for atrocities in Darfur. The United States itself has declared genocide has occurred in Darfur and demanded swift action.
After the vote on peacekeepers, de la Sabliere remained adamant that the Sudan cases must go to the International Criminal Court.
"We have to put an end to impunity," de la Sabliere said. "The Security Council has to refer Sudan to the ICC."
As for the sanctions resolution, the American draft would extend an arms embargo already in force in Darfur for both black African rebel groups and the Janjaweed to include Sudan's government. It would also impose a travel ban and asset freeze against those who block peace efforts and threaten stability in Darfur. No date has been set for a vote.
Conflict has engulfed Darfur since February 2003, when two non-Arab rebel groups took up arms against the Arab-dominated government to win more political and economic rights for the region's African tribes.
Sudan's Arab government is accused of responding by backing Janjaweed militiamen who have carried out rapes and killings against Sudanese of African origin. The government denies backing the Janjaweed.