updated 10/26/2004 4:14:49 PM ET 2004-10-26T20:14:49

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to hold a rare meeting in Nairobi next month to promote a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and southern rebels that the United States says also is crucial to ending the conflict in the Darfur region.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth, who sponsored the resolution, expressed hope that the council meetings in the Kenyan capital on Nov. 18-19 will lead both sides to “close the differences very, very substantially — and it would be great if there were a peace agreement.”

The 15-member Security Council has sent missions to many countries. But the Nairobi meeting will be only the fourth official council meeting outside New York since 1952, Danforth said.

“I think that it says to the parties that they are on center stage in world affairs, and that the Security Council and the world is looking to both sides ... to be very flexible and to move forward and to conclude a peace agreement,” he said.

Long-running conflict
The conflict broke out in 1983 after the rebels from the mainly animist and Christian south took up arms against the predominantly Arab and Muslim north. Most of the 2 million casualties have come from war-induced famine.

Talks to end the fighting resumed in Nairobi on Oct. 7 and adjourned for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The government and rebels agreed to form a 24,000-member national army, with each side contributing half. But they are at odds over a rebel demand to maintain a separate army as a security guarantee.

Danforth, who will hold the Security Council presidency in November, said ending the civil war between the government and southern rebels would “provide the basis for moving forward in Darfur and resolving the political aspect of that problem.”

At least 70,000 people have died and 1.5 million have been forced from their homes during the Darfur crisis, which began in February 2003 when two rebel groups took up arms over what they regarded as unjust treatment by the government and ethnic Arab countrymen.

Major bloodshed ensued when the pro-government Janjaweed militias reacted by attacking villages in Darfur.

On Monday, Sudan’s government and the Darfur rebels resumed peace talks in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Representatives at the African Union-brokered talks said the meeting would aim at agreeing on an agenda for the negotiations.

Under the resolution adopted Tuesday, representatives of the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development will be invited to meet with the council to discuss Sudan and other peace efforts.

But Danforth, who previously led U.S. efforts to end Sudan’s civil war, said the focus of the Nairobi meeting is Sudan.

Pressing for ‘something substantive’
British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, the current council president, said the trip “can demonstrate on the ground exactly why central and eastern Africa matters, and why we’re addressing Sudan in particular.”

“We can’t do that any clearer than actually taking all of us over and having discussions there,” he said.

Algeria’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Baali, the only Arab council member, expressed hope that the trip will lead to a peace agreement. Asked whether it was symbolic, he replied: “It’s political. It’s political.”

Baali stressed, however, that there was an expectation of “something substantive to happen.”

The Security Council met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1972, in Panama City, Panama, in 1973, and in Geneva in 1990.

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