UN urged to restore Western Sahara peacekeeping mission

AP News
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Posted: Apr 27, 2016 4:49 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A proposed Security Council resolution calls for the urgent return of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the disputed Western Sahara to its full operation, in a strong rebuke to Morocco's expulsion of most of its civilian staff.

The U.S.-drafted resolution, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, expresses concern at the U.N. mission's inability to fully carry out its mandate of monitoring a 1991 cease-fire and organizing a referendum on the future of Western Sahara following Morocco's action last month.

It also expresses concern at Morocco's violation of agreements with the United Nations on the operation of the mission, known as MINURSO.

The draft resolution would extend the mandate of the mission until April 30, 2017 and "emphasize the urgent need for MINURSO to return to full functionality."

It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report within 120 days on whether the mission's full operations have been restored, and if not "to consider how best to facilitate achievement of this goal."

MINURSO's current mandate expires on Saturday and the Security Council is scheduled to vote on the draft resolution on Thursday. But all 15 members only received the draft Wednesday afternoon, so there could be further negotiations and the vote could be delayed.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought a local independence movement called the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and established MINURSO to monitor it and help prepare a referendum, which has never taken place.

Morocco considers the mineral-rich region its "southern provinces" and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population — as called for in U.N. resolutions, all of which are reaffirmed in the current draft.

Last month, Morocco expelled over 70 U.N. civilians carrying out political activities, de-mining operations and other activities after secretary-general Ban used the word "occupation" in talking about Western Sahara following a visit to a camp for refugees from the region who have been in Algeria for over 40 years.

Ban and many council members have warned that the expulsion must be reversed because otherwise it will become a precedent and other countries with Security Council-mandated peacekeeping and political missions could decide to expel U.N. troops and staff as well.

The Polisario Front's MINURSO coordinator, Emhamed Khadad, accused Morocco at a press conference here earlier Wednesday of manufacturing the current crisis "to distract from its unwillingness to engage in meaningful negotiations on nothing more than a vote by the Saharwi people to determine their political future."