By Mohamed Osman and Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press
Dr. Lam Akol

KHARTOUM, Sudan - Sudan yesterday endorsed a U.N. resolution to send 26,000 peacekeepers to Darfur, raising hopes for a force that could for the first time provide real protection to civilians in one of the world's most embattled regions.

Acceptance of the new mission marked a major turnaround for Khartoum. President Omar al-Bashir said last year that he viewed U.N. blue helmets as a neocolonial force and would personally lead the resistance against them if they deployed.

"The Sudanese government is committed to implementing its part of the resolution," Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol told reporters yesterday.

"This resolution is a result of long and tedious consultations involving lots of people and the Sudanese government," Akol said. "This is the first time a country involved in the resolution takes part in the consultations."

But Sudan has a long history of obstructing any international presence in Darfur, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned yesterday that the United States would watch out for any Sudanese backtracking.

"We are expecting the Sudanese government to live up to the commitments it is making," she said, speaking during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

If fully deployed, the troops would be the United Nations' largest peacekeeping operation and, under the U.N. resolution passed Tuesday, would be under orders to prevent attacks against civilians.

Four years of warfare in Darfur, in western Sudan, has killed more than 200,000 people and driven some 2.5 million from their homes. The conflict began when ethnic African rebels launched an insurgency, complaining of discrimination by the Arab government in Khartoum. The government is accused of responding by unleashing the janjaweed, a militia blamed for widespread killings, rapes, and other atrocities against ethnic African civilians. Khartoum denies the accusations.

An African Union force of 7,000 troops on the ground has been too small and too poorly equipped to stop the bloodshed.

The force will include up to 19,555 military personnel. The United Nations said the force, called UNAMID, would have "a predominantly African character," as Sudan demanded. African troops already in Darfur will stay there.

Attack helicopters expected to be sent in would give the troops a major edge in moving quickly across the large territory in central Africa to stop attacks by Arab janjaweed militias on villages.

France, Denmark and Indonesia offered yesterday to contribute to the force. Nigeria, which has about 2,000 troops in Darfur, said it was ready to send an additional battalion - about 700 soldiers.

"This force is only going to have a significant impact on security [for Darfurians] if two things happen," said Colin Thomas-Jensen, a Sudan expert at the Enough Project, a U.S.-based research and advocacy group. "A sufficient deployment of troops with requisite material, and a real political agreement for peace in Darfur."

Western activists warned that Khartoum could eviscerate the new Darfur mission by, for instance, not granting entry visas to blue helmets, holding up key military gear at customs, or impeding contractors sent in to build peacekeeping bases.

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