NAIROBI, Kenya — After traveling halfway around the world to provide symbolic support to Sudan's peace process, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution today to provide political and economic help if Sudan ends its 21-year-long civil war by the end of the year.
With the Security Council's 15 members acting as witnesses, leaders from the two sides signed an accord to complete their peace talks by Dec. 31. Then, Sudan's vice president, Ali Osman Taha, grasped the hand of his erstwhile enemy, rebel leader John Garang, and raised their arms together in victory. They called each other "brother," and eventually will serve together as co-vice presidents.
"We are keen, we are fully committed to give the people of Sudan and the people of Africa the gift of peace in the new year," Taha said.
The two sides have vowed peace toward each other several times in the past year.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John C. Danforth, acknowledged that skeptics have called the unusual Security Council trip a grand bit of stagecraft, while death spreads throughout the Sudan. But this time, the Security Council was literally standing behind the two leaders, to both support and to prod them into the agreement.
The peace pact would end more than two decades of conflict between rebels seeking a greater share of power and wealth for the largely Christian and animist south and the Islamic national government. More than 2 million people have died during the conflict, mostly from war-induced hunger and disease. Under the prospective agreement, the rebels will join the government and split the country's revenues, and the rebel-held south will be allowed to vote on self rule after 6 1/2 years.
"It is up to you to prove the naysayers and skeptics wrong, and to move your country forward toward joining the family of nations," Danforth told the Sudanese leaders.
To help them along, the council unanimously passed a resolution providing for a massive package of development aid and debt relief once the fighting stops and wealth and power-sharing agreements are in force.
The resolution also connected the end of Sudan's civil war to the prospect of stabilizing a more recent conflict in Darfur. Sudan's western region erupted in violence in February 2003 when the government joined with largely Sudanese Arab militias to put down a non-Arab rebel movement.
The government-backed fighters are accused of systematic attacks that have driven about 2 million people from their land, and left an estimated 70,000 dead. The U.N. is now investigating the killings as genocide.
The resolution sparked criticism from human rights groups, who said it made only a glancing reference to the prospect of sanctions if Sudan's government does not disarm and prosecute their paramilitary allies who are accused of systematic attacks on African farmers.
"We thought having the Security Council here might be a turning point for the people dying in Sudan," said Brendan Cox from Oxfam. "But we can't get aid to 200,000 people who are cut off by violence, while the Security Council is dithering, going for unanimity at the expense of action," he said.
Finding the right tone on Darfur was a subject of great debate among Security Council members. China, Russia, Algeria and Pakistan had been reluctant to highlight Darfur, for fear of diminishing Khartoum's cooperation in the peace talks.
After intense negotiations that began in New York on Tuesday, and continued on the 17-hour plane flight on Air Force Two, the council finally struck a balance Thursday between pushing the peace while keeping Darfur in sight.
The resolution demands access for aid workers, an end to all violence and the forcible repatriation of displaced people — a particular concern in the ravaged western region, where about 1.6 million are living in tent cities. But it does not spell out the consequences if Khartoum fails to comply.
Danforth made sure the message came through loud and clear.
"The violence and atrocities being perpetrated in Darfur must end now," he told Sudanese government leaders, who had just attended the signing of the commitment to end the war. "You have heard this message clearly from the Security Council. Heed it. I cannot emphasize this point more strongly."
During the council's unusual four-day trip to Nairobi — only the fourth time it has met outside New York since 1952, and the first time in 14 years — the members discussed peacekeeping in Somalia and expanding the African Union's security role in the region.
The African Union has been taking a larger role recently in solving the continent's conflicts, including sending 3,200 peacekeepers to Sudan.