The call was made by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, after a lunch with Security Council members on Thursday where Darfur was the main topic.
   
"We will need very sophisticated equipment, logistical support. I will be turning to governments with capacity to join in that peacekeeping operation if we were to be given the mandate," Annan said.

Asked if that would include rich countries, like the United States and European nations, Annan said: "Those are the countries with the kind of capabilities we will need, so when the time comes, we will be turning to them."

But Annan said that first the Sudan government, the 15-member Security Council and the African Union, which has sent the only foreign troops to Darfur, had to agree.

"We need to get the [Sudanese] government to work with us in bringing in an expanded force with troops from outside Africa, because until recently it has maintained that it will only accept African troops," Annan told reporters.
   
The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when rebels rose up against Khartoum, accusing the government of marginalising the impoverished area.

The government in turn armed Arab militias to put down the rebellion, but they have been accused of conducting a campaign of rape, looting and murder.

Annan said any new force would have to be a mobile one with tactical air support, helicopters and "the ability to respond very quickly".
   
For more than a year, the Security Council has dealt with the warfare in Sudan's western region.

It has imposed an arms embargo, which all sides have violated. It also voted to put an asset freeze and travel ban on belligerents, which has yet to be imposed, and referred the crisis to the International Criminal Court, which is considering prosecutions.

African force
   
Annan said the African Union's 6000 soldiers would remain in Darfur for nine to 12 more months if they had enough funds.

At the moment, the AU has enough money to sustain its operation only until March, with the US Congress having denied it a further $50 million in aid.

"We need to get the [Sudanese] government to work with us in bringing in an expanded force with troops from outside Africa"

Kofi Annan, the UN
secretary-general

He said the African Union needed money now "and they need it quickly" because any UN takeover would take months.

John Bolton, US Ambassador at the UN, asked about a UN takeover on Tuesday, said: "We have already considered what the options are, and there are no decisions made, but it is very actively under consideration.

"I think it makes it more urgent and more complicated. A lot of people in the AU are reluctant to see the mission shift because it would be seen as an AU failure. We don't see it that way, but you have to go through the consultations."

The AU force, operating in a desert region the size of France, has a mandate to monitor ceasefire violations but limited powers to intervene.
   
In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Thursday, the African Union indicated that it might hand over the operation to the world body because of a lack of funds.