April 27, 2016 / 5:58 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. proposes restoring U.N. Western Sahara's mission's functionality

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday proposed that the U.N. Security Council demand a restoration of the full capability of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in disputed Western Sahara that has been crippled by Morocco’s expulsion of civilian staff.

An indigenous Sahrawi woman walks at a refugee camp of Boudjdour in Tindouf, southern Algeria March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The 15-nation council is scheduled to vote on Friday on extending the mission’s mandate, which expires on Saturday. The United States has drafted a resolution calling for the urgent restoration of “full functionality” of the U.N. Western Sahara mission, according to a copy of the text seen by Reuters.

Originally the council planned to vote on Thursday but delayed it by one day to allow more negotiations, diplomats said.

Morocco expelled dozens of international U.N. civilian staff from MINURSO after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month referred to the North African nation’s 1975 annexation of the region from Spain as an “occupation.”

The U.S. draft’s proposed terminology, council diplomats said, suggests the mission, known as MINURSO, should be restored to staffing levels comparable to what they were before the Moroccans ordered civilian personnel out of the country.

“Full functionality ... means being able to fulfill the whole mandate including the civilian part of the mandate, which has at its center the preparation of an eventual referendum on the political future of the territory,” a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

This view was echoed by Mhamed Khadad of the Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front separatist movement, which wants a referendum on independence for Western Sahara. Morocco says it will only grant autonomy.

Khadad told reporters that Polisario wants the council to ensure MINURSO fulfills it mandate to organize a referendum.

Rabat said its decisions were irreversible, though one diplomat said the United States and Morocco were discussing MINURSO’s future at the foreign minister level.

The latest U.S. draft also calls for Ban to report within 120 days on whether MINURSO has “full functionality”.

Several council diplomats said Morocco’s traditional ally France, a permanent veto power on the council, along with Senegal opposed calling for “full functionality”. Such a move, they said, risks making MINURSO’s reductions permanent.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters discussions on the text were continuing and that France was pushing for a compromise on a “good text with as large as possible support.”

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters MINURSO “should be returned to its full capacity.”

The controversy over Ban’s “occupation” comment, made during a visit to refugee camps for Sahrawi people in southern Algeria, is the worst dispute between the U.N. and Morocco since 1991, when the international body brokered a ceasefire to end a war between Rabat and rebels fighting for independence in Western Sahara. MINURSO was established at that time.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bernard Orr

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