The African Union's peace and security council Wednesday formally agreed to send as many as 3,200 African peacekeepers to the Darfur region of Sudan to help halt violence that has contributed to the deaths of more than 70,000 people and driven more than a million from their homes.

The African force would have a mandate to monitor abuses of civilians in Darfur and ensure the delivery of humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of displaced people. It would monitor compliance by the Sudanese government and two rebel groups with a cease-fire agreement and provide limited protection to civilians "whom it encounters under imminent threat," according to a statement released by the organization in Addis Ababa.

President Bush ordered the Defense Department on Monday to send two C-130 military transport planes to the region later this month for two weeks to ferry about 1,000 Rwanda and Nigerian troops into Darfur. The State Department, meanwhile, has authorized two U.S. companies to spend $20.6 million on transportation, housing and communications for the African forces, according to U.S. and company officials.

The funding is part of a five-year contract between the State Department and Reston-based DynCorp and Los Angeles-based Pacific Architects and Engineers (PA&E) Inc. to support "peacekeeping and conflict management support-related taskings through sub-Saharan Africa," according to a State Department official. PA&E already provides logistical support for a group of 390 African Union troops and cease-fire monitors posted in Darfur.

The U.S. commitment is part of a broader effort by Western governments, including Australia, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, the Netherlands and the European Union, to provide more than $200 million in logistical support for the enlarged African Union mission. The Bush administration hopes that the pledges will help speed the arrival of the African peacekeepers to Darfur, where it says government-backed Arab militia have engaged in a campaign of genocide against the region's black African tribes.

Security in Darfur has worsened in recent weeks, with fresh U.N. reports of fighting between government and rebel forces and attacks on civilians in villages and camps throughout Darfur. A convoy of 36 trucks transporting goods for the World Food Program was attacked and looted in West Darfur. The top United Nations envoy in Sudan, Jan Pronk of the Netherlands, will meet Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, in Khartoum on Thursday to convey his concerns about the security situation, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

The violence in Darfur began in February 2003 when the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms against the government, citing discrimination against the region's black tribes. Khartoum organized and equipped Arab militia, known as the Janjaweed, who participated in a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at expelling many of the region's black tribes.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 70,000 people have died in Darfur since March and 10,000 are dying each month from disease and violence.