UN council weighs US measure to restore W. Sahara mission

27th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

The United States on Wednesday circulated a draft UN resolution that calls for restoring the UN mission in Western Sahara after Morocco expelled dozens of staff, leaving peace operations hanging by a thread.

The Security Council is set to vote Friday on the draft text on renewing the MINURSO mission's mandate for a year amid sharp divisions on the council on the way forward.

The vote was postponed by a day to allow for more discussion, diplomats said.

The draft resolution, obtained by AFP, calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the council in four months on whether the MINURSO mission has been restored to "full functionality."

An earlier text provided for a two-month deadline for the report.

That provision is expected to raise concerns among some council members who fear that Morocco, backed by France and Senegal, is seeking to delay action on re-establishing the full strength of the mission.

Morocco last month expelled 75 staffers in angry retaliation over Ban's use of the term "occupation" to describe the status of Western Sahara.

Rabat maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom and has long resisted UN efforts to bring about a settlement to the decades-old conflict. It pits Morocco against independence-seeking Sahrawi rebels of the Polisario Front.

The draft resolution expressed concern 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."

- Watered down draft -

Under the proposed measures, the 15-member council will "consider how best to facilitate" the mission's return to full capacity if the crisis over the peace mission is unresolved in four months.

A previous text contained stronger language, calling on the council to "take immediate measures" to restore the full functionality.

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.

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

The Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which has long campaigned for a referendum on self-rule, has called on the council to impose sanctions on Morocco if it refuses to allow the peace mission to operate fully.

"This is unprecedented, this kind of challenge to the Security Council," said Emhamed Khadad, the coordinator from the Polisario Front.

The vote on Thursday "will decide about peace or war," he said.

Ban has warned that a weakened peace mission in Western Sahara will likely open up an opportunity for extremists to move in and could lead to a return to full-scale conflict.

© 2016 AFP

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