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UN Security Council extends its Western Sahara mission by one year

April 30, 2016 - WESTERN SAHARA

The United Nations extended its 25-year-old Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to the April date, stating that negotiations to end the dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the territory are at the "intensive and substantive" phase. The UN statement suggests a late stage in the talks, but a dispute between Rabat and the UN in March and the leak of a sensitive document in Jun 2015 have introduced major setbacks.

According to a Reuters report, Morocco accused UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March of no longer being neutral in the conflict. Rabat criticized his use of the word "occupation" to describe Morocco's annexation of the region, and ordered the UN to withdraw 84 international civilian personnel from its peacekeeping mission.

The leaked UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) report, published by Britain's Guardian in Jun 2015, accuses the Moroccan government of intercepting communications and using 'unethical tactics' to influence the mission. According to the newspaper, DPKO suggests that the communications show Morocco has no desire to "resolve or even engage on the question of Western Sahara through a genuine negotiating process as called for by the Security Council."

The conflict itself stems from 1975, when the International Court of Justice rejected Morocco and Mauritania's claims to the former Spanish territory and supported self-determination of the nomadic Sahrawi people indigenous to the region, now represented by the Polisario Front. Morocco's rulers contested this ruling and obstructed other negotiating processes, leading to a guerrilla war that lasted until 1988, with a ceasefire approved in 1990 by the UNSC.

The UN established MINURSO in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and implement a referendum on independence. The region is still waiting on the vote because of arguments over who can vote, and what a Yes vote would deliver. Morocco insists a Yes would deliver no more than autonomy for the region. The Polisario Front regards it as a vote for sovereignty for the indigenous population.

The African Union, which calls for the full decolonization of Africa, sees Morocco's presence in the Western Sahara as the last remaining colonial occupation on the African continent.


Leaked cables: Morocco lobbied UN to turn blind eye to Western Sahara in 'House of Cards' operation (Guardian 17 Jun 2015)

Without Reform, UN's Western Sahara Mission Risks Failure (IPI 11 May 2015)

U.S. supports Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara (Reuters 18 Mar 2016)

Date written/update: 2016-03-20