UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a new peacekeeping force for South Sudan on Friday, assuring the world's newest nation on the eve of its independence of military and police support to help maintain peace and security.
The council authorized the deployment of up to 7,000 military personnel and 900 international police, plus an unspecified number of U.N. civilian staff including human rights experts.
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The council acted ahead of independence celebrations on Saturday in South Sudan's capital Juba when the mainly ethnic African south officially breaks away from the Arab-dominated north whose capital is in Khartoum.
South Sudan's independence is the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war but there are fears the conflict could be reignited because troops from the north and south are facing off in the contested oil-rich border region of Abyei. Northern troops and forces loyal to the south are also fighting in Southern Kordofan, a state just over the border in the north.
"This is a strong signal of support to the new South Sudan," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig, the current council president, said after the vote. "The council believed that this was a substantial contribution to the security challenges facing South Sudan."
He said the Security Council is expected to give South Sudan another vote of confidence on July 13 by recommending its membership in the United Nations. The General Assembly is expected to approve South Sudan as the U.N.'s 193rd member state the following day.
Diplomats said Russian concerns about authorizing a mission before South Sudan becomes independent were overcome by stating in the opening sentence that the Security Council welcomes it as a state when independence is proclaimed on July 9.
The resolution establishes a new United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan on July 9 for an initial period of one year. It calls for reviews after three months and six months to determine if conditions on the ground would allow the military contingent to be reduced from 7,000 to 6,000 troops.
It gives the U.N. mission, to be known as UNMISS, a mandate "to consolidate peace and security, and to help establish the conditions for development ... with a view to strengthening the capacity of the government of the Republic of South Sudan to govern effectively and democratically and establish good relations with its neighbors."
The resolution specifically authorizes the mission to support the new government on its political transition, issues of governance and establishing state authority throughout the country, and to advise it on "an inclusive constitutional process," holding elections, and establishing an independent media.
It authorizes U.N. peacekeepers to support the government in preventing conflict and demobilizing combatants, to conduct patrols in areas at high risk of conflict, and to protect civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence." It also authorizes the mission to cooperate with U.N. agencies in supporting the government in peace-building activities, including promoting development, the rule of law, security and justice.
The U.N. has had a 10,400-strong peacekeeping force, known as UNMIS, monitoring implementation of the 2005 north-south agreement, which operates on both sides of the border. Its mandate expires Saturday and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed a three-month extension but the Khartoum government rejected any extension and said it wanted all U.N. troops out of the north.
Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been private, said the five permanent Security Council nations -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France -- jointly asked the Sudanese government earlier this week to allow a U.N. presence in the north after South Sudan breaks away.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who will be leading the American delegation to South Sudan's independence ceremonies, said Thursday in Washington that many council members still are trying to persuade Sudan's leaders to keep a U.N. presence.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who stopped in Khartoum Friday en route to Juba for the independence celebration, again urged the Sudanese government to extend the UNMIS mandate "at least until the situation calms down" and to end the confrontation in Southern Kordofan.
Ban also announced the appointment of Hilde Johnson, a former Norwegian Cabinet minister and the current deputy executive director of the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, as head of the new U.N. mission in South Sudan -- a move welcomed by the Security Council.
Leaders from the north and south signed an agreement on June 20 to demilitarize Abyei and allow and Ethiopian peacekeeping force to move and a week later the Security Council authorized the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian troops in Abyei for six months.
One unresolved issue is future responsibility for monitoring the north-south border.
The governments of both Sudans signed an agreement on border security on June 29 and the resolution calls on the parties to propose arrangements for border monitoring by July 20. If they fail to do so, the resolution requests the new U.N. mission in South Sudan "to observe and report on any flow of personnel, arms and related materiel across the border with Sudan."