Divided UN council votes to bring back full W. Sahara mission

29th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

The UN Security Council on Friday voted to restore the UN mission in disputed Western Sahara but was divided over the steps demanded from Morocco to bring the peacekeeping force back to full operations.

A US-drafted resolution was backed by 10 countries in the 15-member council. Venezuela and Uruguay voted against the measure, while Russia, Angola and New Zealand abstained.

Morocco last month expelled dozens of civilian staffers from the MINURSO mission in angry retaliation over Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's use of the term "occupation" to describe the status of the territory it claims as its own.

The resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO for a year and emphasized "the urgent need" for the mission to return to its "full functionality."

Several council members had complained that the resolution was not firm enough toward Morocco by setting a three-month deadline for Ban to report on whether the mission is running at full capacity.

"There is a fracture in terms of the positions on how to resolve this issue," Venezuela's Ambassador Rafael Ramirez said after the vote.

If the dispute remains unresolved after three months, the council will "consider how best to facilitate achievement of this goal," according to the resolution.

China, Britain, France, Spain and the United States backed the resolution along with Ukraine, Japan, Egypt, Malaysia and Senegal.

The resolution was adopted after weeks of tense debate at the council over how to address the crisis that threatened to set a dangerous precedent for UN peacekeeping.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom despite a UN resolution that tasks MINURSO with organizing a referendum on self-determination.

France, Spain and Senegal have been sympathetic to Morocco's concerns but Venezuela, Uruguay and New Zealand have pushed for a tougher approach to bring back MINURSO.

UN diplomats warned that governments unhappy with a UN presence in their countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, were watching the council's response.

MINURSO was established in 1991 after a ceasefire ended a war that broke out when Morocco sent troops to the former Spanish territory in 1975 and fought Sahrawi rebels of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The mission was tasked with organizing a referendum on the future of the territory that never materialized.

The resolution expressed regret that "MINURSO's ability to fully carry out its mandate has been affected as the majority of its civilian component, including political personnel, cannot perform their duties within MINURSO's area of operations."

The Polisario Front, which has long campaigned for a referendum on self-rule, had called on the council to impose sanctions on Morocco.


© 2016 AFP

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