April 22, 2015 / 3:28 PM / in 4 years

Western Sahara's Polisario threatens to review U.N. cooperation

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Polisario Front independence movement in the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara has threatened to review cooperation with United Nations monitors if the world body gives up on the idea of a referendum on the region’s final status.

The threat came as the United States prepared on Wednesday to distribute a draft resolution to fellow members of the U.N. Security Council on renewing the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping force in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, for another year.

Polisario’s coordinator with MINURSO, M’hamed Khadad, was asked by Reuters what the group planned to do if this year’s resolution failed to disrupt the deadlock in talks with Morocco on the status of Western Sahara.

“The mandate is to organize a free and fair referendum and to guarantee human rights,” he said. “Otherwise we will reassess our cooperation with MINURSO on that basis. We cannot accept that MINURSO is acting in the territory as if it was Moroccan territory. It is not the case.”

Khadad voiced the fear that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon may have abandoned the idea of a referendum under pressure from Morocco.

He also repeated the group’s position that MINURSO should be responsible for monitoring human rights in Western Sahara, a position supported by the African Union but rejected by Morocco.

Morocco took control of most of the territory in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting Polisario to wage a guerrilla war lasting until 1991, when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in MINURSO.

Morocco rejects the idea of MINURSO conducting human rights monitoring and says the African Union has no business meddling in the issue. It also says the territory should have autonomy, not independence, a view rejected by Polisario. Morocco is not a member of the African Union due to Western Sahara.

Polisario now runs refugee camps at Tindouf in Algeria.

Morocco’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. draft resolution, which could change before it is adopted by the council next week, says “the consolidation of the status quo is not acceptable” and that progress in the negotiations is essential.

It adds that the U.N.-led negotiations should aim for “a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” It provides no detail on that proposal.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Ted Botha

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