U.S. submits new U.N. Western Sahara draft after criticism


The United States on Thursday gave the U.N. Security Council a new draft resolution on disputed Western Sahara after some members said an earlier text did not go far enough in pressuring Morocco to allow restoration of a full U.N. peacekeeping mission there.

The 15-nation council is tentatively scheduled to vote on Friday on extending the mandate of the United Nations’ Western Sahara mission, known as MINURSO. The mandate expires on Saturday.

Several council diplomats said the latest U.S. draft would hopefully get unanimous support.

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 expulsions have crippled the mission, the U.N. has said.

Wednesday’s U.S draft called for the urgent restoration of MINURSO’s “full functionality” and for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report back to the council within 120 days on compliance with the council’s demand.

Waiting four months to assess Moroccan compliance with the council’s demands struck several council members as excessive.

New Zealand’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen told reporters “we thought a shorter time was needed.”

An initial U.S. draft had called for Ban to report back within 60 days, but that timeline doubled to objections from Morocco’s traditional ally France along with Senegal, council diplomats said.

The latest U.S. draft, seen by Reuters, reduced the time to 90 days, which one senior council diplomat said should be an “acceptable compromise.”

The Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front independence movement wants a referendum on the idea of an independent Western Sahara. Morocco says it will only grant autonomy.

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.