U.N. urges new push to settle Western Sahara dispute

The United Nations has been trying to broker a settlement for Western Sahara since 1991

Published: Updated:

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday pushed Morocco and pro-independence campaigners in Western Sahara to negotiate a settlement to the decades-old dispute over the former Spanish territory.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a resolution that extended the mandate of the U.N. peace mission MINURSO and called for a “more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations.”

The three African countries with seats at the council voted in favor of the resolution despite demands from the African Union that MINURSO be tasked with monitoring human rights.

Angolan Ambassador Ismael Abraao Gaspar Martins said African countries supported the measure with the understanding that the United Nations will be playing “a more active role in the search for a political solution.”

The United Nations has been trying to broker a settlement for Western Sahara since 1991 after a ceasefire was reached to end a war that broke out when Morocco sent its forces to the territory in 1975.

Local Sahrawi people are campaigning for the right to self-determination, but Morocco considers the territory as part of the kingdom and insists that its sovereignty cannot be challenged.

The African Union, which recognizes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member, views the dispute as an example of unfinished decolonization on the continent.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Britain, France, Spain and the United States which deplored that little progress has been made in UN efforts to find a political solution and called for a shift.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” French diplomat Alexis Lamek told the council. “This long-running disagreement can be resolved.”

The Polisario Front independence movement accused France of supporting Morocco in a bid to maintain the status quo and stressed that efforts at negotiations have failed.

“The Security Council continues to call for negotiations but it forgot to make the point that Morocco is putting up obstacles,” Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario Front’s representative at the United Nations, told reporters.

Boukhari stressed that the U.N. resolution calls for a political solution based on self-determination, an apparent reference to the Polisario’s demands for a referendum on statehood.

The adoption of the measure followed tensions in relations between the United Nations and Morocco over the mediation efforts of envoy Christopher Ross.

Following direct talks between U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and King Mohammed VI, Ross was able to resume his mission with a first regional visit in February.