UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council on Tuesday authorized a massive U.N. peacekeeping operation to deploy to Darfur in an effort to protect civilians and aid workers in Sudan's conflict-racked region.
The council voted 15 to 0 to begin sending a joint U.N.-African Union force of as many as 26,000 troops and police to Darfur before the end of the year to quell violence that has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in four years.
The full force, the largest authorized by the U.N., will take about a year to muster and could cost $2 billion, said peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno. He added that a substantial number of troops will arrive before year's end.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolution "historic and unprecedented" and said it would help "improve the lives of the people of the region and close this tragic chapter in Sudan's history."
The resolution is the culmination of a 9-month-long fight with the Khartoum government over sending troops to Darfur, where Arab militias known as janjaweed have systematically attacked civilians and rival tribes since a rebel uprising began there in 2003. The government is accused of arming the militias, but it denies any links to the groups.
The long struggle over the peacekeepers has shown how a nation's claim of sovereignty can be more powerful than the world's authority to intervene.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir first agreed to the force in November but backtracked several times. Bashir finally assented in June, provided the force was mostly African and was led by the African Union.
The U.N. agreed to the composition of the force and selected African generals but insisted on holding command.
The final resolution narrowed the circumstances under which the troops can use force: to protect themselves, aid workers and civilians. It also pledged that the force would not usurp the responsibilities of the Sudanese government.
In addition, there was no mention of sanctions in the event Sudan did not comply, and the resolution said that the force could monitor illegal weapons present in Darfur, but not disarm rebels or pro-government militias, as originally drafted.
"They said in the very first paragraph that our sovereignty will be fully safeguarded and protected," said Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem. "We stressed it, of course. This is one of the red lines we cannot cross."
Negotiation on the final language of the resolution, led by Britain and France, continued until the last minute before Tuesday's vote.
Abdalhaleem said that he spent "the whole of Sunday" in the British mission, going over the resolution line by line.
The United States did not co-sponsor the resolution because it was weaker than the one the Bush administration had wanted, diplomats said. But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that it included Washington's three bottom-line demands, including invoking Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to justify the use of force, giving command and control to the U.N., and allowing the use of force to protect civilians.
"I would not read a lot into this," Khalilzad said of the decision not to co-sponsor the resolution.
"The important thing is that we voted for it and we will support it."
Much work remains to get the force into Darfur, where it will replace 7,000 African Union troops who have gone unpaid for the last four months and who have been unable to protect civilians for the last three years.
The U.N. will take over the funding of the African Union force in October and transfer authority to the joint force as soon as possible, said Guehenno, the peacekeeping chief. The peacekeeping department has begun to assemble troops and funding for the force.
"I know the expectations on the ground are enormous, and we don't want to disappoint," he said.
But several ambassadors emphasized that the peacekeepers must have a peace to keep and urged the government, rebel leaders and militias to uphold a cease-fire and work on a U.N.-backed peace agreement. The U.N. hopes to hold talks in September and is helping rebels unify their demands in a meeting starting this Friday in Arusha, Tanzania.
Visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a speech at the U.N. on development, warned Khartoum and rebels that if killings continued, "I and others will redouble our efforts to impose further sanctions.
"The message for Darfur is that it is time for change," Brown told U.N. diplomats.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said that Sudan should be recognized and rewarded for showing "flexibility" and that the international community wanted all parties to seize this "rare momentum for peace."
British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry warned that Khartoum and the rebels have disappointed the Security Council before, and that the measure was a first step.
"The catastrophe of Darfur will not be ended by the raising of 15 hands in this chamber. The suffering will not be ended by our vote," he said.
"But today's decision and the actions that flow from it offer the prospect of a new start for Darfur. That is our hope. That is our goal."