UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging the Security Council to press Morocco to restore the UN mission’s role in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
Ban warned in a report obtained by AFP news agency on Tuesday that staff cuts ordered by Rabat will weaken the MINURSO mission and “can be expected to be exploited by terrorist and radical elements.
“I call on the Security Council to restore and support the mandated role of MINURSO,” said the report sent to the council on Monday.
The UN chief warned of a full-scale war if the peacekeeping mission’s mandate was not extended for another 12 months.
“The risk of a rupture of the ceasefire and resumption of hostilities, with its attendant danger of escalation into full-scale war, will grow significantly in the event that MINURSO is forced to depart or finds itself unable to execute the mandate that the Security Council has set,” he said.
Morocco expelled 83 civilian staffers of MINURSO a month ago and shut down a military liaison office, severely crippling operations in what was once a 500-strong mission.
The move was in response to a visit by Ban to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria during which he used the term “occupation” to refer to the status of Western Sahara, a term fiercely rejected by Rabat.
Ban’s appeal to the Security Council puts pressure on France, Senegal and Spain which have been in close contact with Morocco over the fate of MINURSO.
Council members are to vote on April 28 on whether to renew the mandate of the mission, which was established in 1991. In his report, Ban said the mission should stay on for a further 12 months, until April 2017.
The UN chief warned that downsizing MINURSO will have “significant implications for the stability of the region as well as the credibility of the Security Council and United Nations peacekeeping” worldwide.
Last month Rabat accused the UN chief of abandoning his “neutrality, objectivity and impartiality”. A huge protest was held in the Moroccan capital over Ban’s comments.
Morocco has regained and been administering the Western Sahara, which was formerly under Spanish colonial rule, since 1975. Rabat’s official stance is that it is historically part of Morocco.
Polisario Front, which seeks an independent state in the region, waged a guerrilla war until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. But the two sides have been deadlocked since, particularly over a referendum on the territory’s future.
A plan for regional autonomy proposed by Morocco has been rejected by Polisario as not enough.