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Morocco says Western Sahara decision ‘irreversible’

Morocco this month ordered the UN to pull out dozens of civilian staffers and close a military liaison office for the MINURSO peacekeeping mission

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Morocco’s decision to reduce United Nations staff at the Western Sahara mission is sovereign and irreversible, but the government is committed to military cooperation with the UN to guarantee the ceasefire there, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

Morocco this month ordered the UN to pull out dozens of civilian staffers and close a military liaison office for the MINURSO peacekeeping mission after criticizing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for using the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s annexation of the disputed territory.

“Our decision is sovereign and irreversible,” Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told reporters in Rabat.

Morocco took over most of the territory in 1975 from colonial Spain. That started a guerrilla war with the Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front who say the desert territory on Africa’s northwest belongs to them.

The U.N. brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and sent in its MINURSO mission, which consists of military and civilian staff, to monitor the ceasefire and organize a referendum over the region’s future. But deadlock has delayed the vote for years.

U.N. officials had repeatedly urged the UN Security Council to publicly voice its support for Ban and MINURSO, something the 15-nation body was unable to do until late on Thursday in New York.

Rabat has accused Ban of dropping the UN’s neutral stance on the dispute, which UN officials deny, saying the secretary-general’s remarks were merely an emotional response after meeting with Sahrawi refugees.