By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday demanded improvements in the international peacekeeping force in Sudan's western Darfur region and called on Khartoum to improve cooperation with the mission in the remote, conflict-torn territory.
The 15-nation council's appeal came after U.N. and African Union officials sounded an alarm last week over the worsening violence in Darfur, which has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people this year.
In a unanimously approved resolution, the council urged the U.N.-African Union mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, "to move to a more preventive and pre-emptive posture in pursuit of its priorities and in active defense of its mandate." U.N. diplomats said that meant being more aggressive in countering threats to Darfuri civilians.
But the resolution voiced concern about "the strategic gap in mobility for the mission, and the continuing critical need for aviation capacity and other mobility assets, including military utility helicopters for UNAMID."
The resolution urged U.N. member states "to redouble their efforts to provide aviation units to the mission, and on the Government of Sudan to facilitate the deployment of those assets already pledged." Diplomats and U.N. officials say Khartoum has rejected some countries' offers of military assets for UNAMID.
The council also endorsed UNAMID's plan to prioritize the protection of civilians, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, and mediating between the government and armed groups to help boost the stalled peace process.
Dozens have been killed in Darfur in recent weeks in fighting between rebels and security forces. Critics have accused the government of war crimes and human rights abuses among ethnic minorities in the region.
Last month the United States accused the Sudanese government of obstructing peacekeepers in Darfur, where it said civilians were being "terrorized, displaced, and killed" despite the presence of one of the world's biggest peacekeeping missions. It also urged UNAMID to be more aggressive in implementing its mandate to protect civilians.
The resolution said that there were three main challenges facing UNAMID in Darfur given the difficult political and security situation - the government's cooperation, "major shortfalls" in UNAMID troop and police capabilities and the need for better coordination in UNAMID and the U.N. country team.
A Sudanese delegate told the Security Council that the deterioration of security in Darfur has been the result of inter-communal fighting.
Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has stayed in power despite rebellions, U.S. trade sanctions, an economic crisis, an attempted coup and an indictment from the International Criminal Court on charges of masterminding genocide and other war crimes in Darfur.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant was asked by reporters why the oft-criticized UNAMID force has failed to meet expectations.
"It's a difficult mission for a number of reasons," he said. "The security situation has always been difficult, the relationship with the host government in Khartoum is difficult, it's a hybrid mission between the U.N. and the African Union and that has proved difficult."
Lyall Grant added there were bureaucratic obstacles created by the government and a "fluctuating security situation on the ground with a huge number of people displaced." He also expressed the hope that the Qatar-led Darfur peace process and Khartoum's pledge for national dialogue would yield results.
Law and order have collapsed in much of Darfur, where mainly African tribes took up arms in 2003 against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, which they accused of discriminating against them.
UNAMID has been deployed in the region since 2007. During that time almost 170 of its troops and police have been killed.
There are 14,500 troops and 4,500 police on the ground. The conflict in Darfur has killed as many as 300,000 people and displaced 2 million, according to the United Nations.
Khartoum puts the Darfur death toll at around 10,000.
(Additional reporting by Mirjam Donath; editing by Gunna Dickson)