UN Votes to Extend Mandate in Western Sahara

UN Votes to Extend Mandate in Western SaharaUN Votes to Extend Mandate in Western Sahara

In a split vote, the United Nations Security Council has extended its peacekeeping mission in disputed Western Sahara for a year. It has also demanded its staff, expelled by Morocco last month, be allowed to return.

Ten nations voted in favor of the resolution, citing an “urgent need” to avoid hostilities in Western Sahara. There were two “no” votes and three abstentions.

The resolution calls for the UN mission, known as MINURSO, to be restored to “full functionality” within 90 days, and extends its mandate to April 30, 2017, DPA reported.

Morocco last month expelled most of the UN mission’s international civilian staff after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Morocco’s 1975 annexation of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, an “occupation”. Ban made the comments during a visit to a refugee camp for Sahrawi people in Algeria.

The ensuing controversy created the worst dispute between Morocco and the UN since 1991, when MINURSO was established to end the conflict between Rabat and local rebels fighting for independence.

The US-drafted resolution calls on Ban to report back in three months on whether functionality has been restored, and if not “to consider how best to facilitate achievement of this goal”.

Moroccan UN Ambassador Omar Hilale said his country would study the resolution, but did not comment on whether Rabat would allow the return of UN civilian staff.