UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- The U.N. Security Council once again has taken up Sudan's embattled western region of Darfur and the question of international peacekeepers, not only to quell conflict but to protect humanitarian workers in the face of Khartoum's rising skepticism and threats.
Friday, the panel of 15 extended the U.N. Mission in Sudan to April 30, 2007. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan also announced Khartoum had accepted U.N. support for the African Union Mission in Sudan, apparently in lieu of accepting a U.N. mission in Darfur. But the resolution expressed "grave concern" over rejection of the U.N. mission.
On the eve of the council's action, there was an intense Washington reaction to a diplomatic "note verbale" delivered to Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan, this month's president of the council. It was dated Tuesday.
The note voiced "total rejection for the various reasons repeatedly reiterated by Sudan" of the panel's Resolution 1706 authorizing up to 15,000 peacekeepers to restore long-lost stability to Darfur, where some 400,000 people are believed to have died and another more than one million people have been displaced from their homes as a result of fighting among government forces, allied militias and rebel groups over the last three years.
Darfur is an impoverished region the size of France on Sudan's western flank next to another troubled nation, Chad.
Khartoum has repeatedly denied consent for any of the U.N. peacekeepers, variously voicing fears it could mean Sudan was the target of another Afghanistan or Iraq invasion by the United States or the United Nations was going to take over the East Africa nation.
"In the absence of Sudan's consent to the deployment of U.N. troops, any volunteering to provide peace keeping troops to Darfur will be considered as a hostile act, a prelude to an invasion of a member country of the United Nations," said the note, dispatched Tuesday.
It referred to a meeting of troop-contributing countries to determine which nations would provide what troops. The conclave was held at U.N. World Headquarters in New York.
That was like lighting a fire under U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.
"This is a direct challenge to the authority of the Security Council... This particular letter is unprecedented," he said Thursday and sought a council statement condemning Sudan's letter.
However, Oshima later said he had been asked by council members to ask the Sudanese representative to clarify the letter before deciding on such a statement. Reporters waited and waited to no avail Thursday evening as "experts" parsed a statement.
But, then, Friday morning, on his way to the council's chambers, Bolton stopped to tell reporters Sudan's ambassador to Washington had clarified Khartoum's position and said, "The government of Sudan has backed down and the threat against potential troop contributing countries, I take to be null and void."
His focus now was on getting AMIS, mandated in Darfur until year's end, to hand over its operation to UNMIS, Bolton said.
Shortly afterward, but before the council approved the extension, Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general "welcomed the Sudanese government's positive response to the U.N. move last month to enhance its support of the African Union mission as it tries to maintain peace and security" across Darfur.
Annan noted he had received a letter from Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in which Khartoum voiced acceptance of the assistance package.
The secretary-general "very much hopes that the proposed support package can be implemented expeditiously, in consultation with the AU and with the full cooperation of the government of Sudan," the statement said, adding Annan also welcomed Khartoum's expressed willingness to pursue its dialogue with the United Nations "in the interest of an early and lasting resolution of the Darfur crisis."
The world organization has pledged to provide support to the regional organization in logistics, materials and with military staff and police officers, while also offering civilian support in mine action, public information and implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.
Last month the AU voted to extend its mission in Darfur, known as AMIS, until the end of the year after the Sudanese government stated repeatedly that it was opposed to any U.N. peacekeeping force taking over AMIS' responsibilities.
The Security Council's vote to extend the UNMIS mandate was unanimous, with the resolution urging all parties to the Darfur conflict to end the violence and atrocities.
In his latest report to the council advocating the mission extension, the secretary-general said the months since striking the Darfur Peace Agreement in May have been disastrous with signatories and non-signatories breaching their obligations under the accords.
"Instead of reconciliation and building of trust, we are witnessing intensified violence and deeper polarization," he said. "The region is again on the brink of a catastrophic situation."
Annan said he was particularly concerned the Sudanese government appeared to be seeking a military solution to the conflict, deploying increasing numbers of troops to the region and using air support during its attacks.