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UN council urges realism in Western Sahara dispute

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council passed a resolution on Wednesday calling for "realism" in Western Sahara in what diplomats saw as a boost for Morocco in its dispute with the Polisario independence movement.

The council passed the resolution unanimously after several hours of haggling over the details and despite strong objections by South Africa and Costa Rica to language they said implied support for Morocco in the dispute.

Earlier in April, the U.N. mediator on Western Sahara sparked division in the Security Council when he told members independence for the disputed territory was unrealistic.

The assessment by envoy Peter van Walsum put him at odds with Polisario, which has sought to keep the independence option open in four rounds of talks with Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975.

Talks resumed a year ago to try to bridge the gap between rival plans put forward by the two sides.

Morocco offered autonomy for the resource-rich territory of 260,000 people but ruled out independence, while Polisario urged a referendum with independence as one option.

The negotiations have made little headway. Further talks are planned but no date has been set.

The Wednesday resolution renewed the mandate of a U.N. peacekeeping force for a year and welcomed "serious and credible Moroccan efforts" to move the process forward, while "taking note" of Polisario's proposals.

It also endorsed a report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that "realism and a spirit of compromise by the parties are essential to maintain the momentum of the process of negotiations."

The report expressed no view on the merits of the two plans, but Polisario and its supporters take the term realism to imply that the independence idea should be dropped.

'MIGHT IS RIGHT'

The current Security Council president, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, told reporters earlier he was not happy about the inclusion of the reference to realism at the initiative of powerful countries friendly to Morocco.

In a statement to the council after the vote, he said the reference to realism could set a precedent in other conflicts, such as that between Israelis and Palestinians, that the principle "might is right" would hold sway.

"This council has made a mistake. They sent a wrong message to Morocco, thinking that they will always support Morocco," Kumalo told reporters after the vote, adding that he nevertheless voted in favor because he still held out hopes for the negotiations.

U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff indicated Washington was in favor of autonomy, under a mutually agreed solution.

"The best way to move forward, in our view, the realistic way to move forward, is to pursue a negotiated solution resulting in true autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the Polisario," Wolff told reporters.

Kumalo also complained that the resolution drafted by France, Russia, Spain, Britain and the United States omitted any reference to human rights, a sensitive subject for Morocco. He said such an omission was a case of double standards.

In his assessment, van Walsum said he had "concluded that there was no pressure on Morocco to abandon its claim of sovereignty over the territory and, therefore, that an independent Western Sahara was not a realistic proposition."

Morocco's seizure of Western Sahara prompted a guerrilla war for independence until a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in 1991. The desert territory on Africa's Atlantic coast holds phosphates, rich fisheries and, potentially, offshore oil. (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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