The UN Security Council has voted to restore the UN mission in disputed Western Sahara and bring the peacekeeping force back to full operations after Morocco expelled international civilian staff.

A US-drafted resolution was backed by 10 countries in the 15-member council on Friday. Venezuela and Uruguay voted against the measure, while Russia, Angola and New Zealand abstained.

Morocco last month expelled dozens of civilian staffers from the MINURSO mission in angry retaliation over Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's use of the term "occupation" to describe the status of the territory it claims as its own.

The resolution extended the mandate of MINURSO for a year and emphasised "the urgent need" for the mission to return to its "full functionality".

Several council members had complained that the resolution was not firm enough towards Morocco by setting a three-month deadline for Ban to report on whether the mission was running at full capacity.

The resolution asked Ban to report back within 90 days on whether the mission's functionality had been restored. It does not threaten any punitive measures against Morocco if the mission remains understaffed.

Council split

China, Britain, France, Spain and the United States backed the resolution, along with Ukraine, Japan, Egypt, Malaysia and Senegal.

The resolution was adopted after weeks of tense debate at the council over how to address the crisis that threatened to set a dangerous precedent for UN peacekeeping.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom despite a UN resolution that tasks MINURSO with organising a referendum on self-determination.

France, Spain and Senegal have been sympathetic to Morocco's concerns but Venezuela, Uruguay and New Zealand have pushed for a tougher approach to bring back MINURSO.

UN diplomats warned that governments unhappy with a UN presence in their countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, were watching the council's response.

MINURSO was established in 1991 after a ceasefire ended a war that broke out between Rabat and the Algerian-backed rebels seeking independence of Western Sahara.

The mission was tasked with organising a referendum on the future of the territory that never materialised.

Source: Agencies