Morocco asks UN to shut Western Sahara liaison office

2016-03-22 15:53
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New York - Morocco has asked the UN to close its military liaison office in Western Sahara, amid a row between Rabat and the world body over the status of the disputed territory.

The move came just a day after Morocco - angry after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used the term "occupation" to describe the territory's status - expelled most of the non-Moroccan civilian members of the UN's MINURSO mission.

"MINURSO has received a request to close its military liaison office in Dakhla," UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

"This is the first request directly targeting the military component of the mission."

So far, 70 civilians holding various UN posts and three civilians working for the African Union have left Western Sahara under the Moroccan expulsion order.

Rabat had previously given the name of 81 civilian expatriate UN employees, but 11 were no longer working for MINURSO, according to the UN.

The expelled civilians have been placed in Las Palmas, in Spain's Canary Islands, or on leave in their country of origin.

"We did this under duress... for logistics and security considerations," Haq said.

"UN and Security Council officials are in contact with Morocco to reach a mutually acceptable solution."

The UN's top political affairs official, Jeffrey Feltman, has warned that the military force would not be able to operate without the civilian component.

Besides the MINURSO troops, just 27 civilians remain, and they can only perform "a small portion" of the tasks, according to Haq.

"We hope Morocco gets the message that this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated," the spokesman added. "Many core functions of the mission would not be able to be performed with such a small number of staff."

Expelling UN civilians

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was due to discuss the tensions with envoys from the 15 council members.

The pro-independence Polisario Front - which called Morocco's decision to expel the UN civilians a "slap in the face to the Security Council, and a dangerous provocation that could lead to war" -- is kept informed of these discussions.

Haq called for the Security Council's "strong and unified support" for the 500-strong MINURSO.

"Without the peacekeeping force performing in the way it is mandated to do, there will be a real risk to return to heightened tension and possibly even conflict," he warned.

The UN has been trying to broker a Western Sahara settlement since a 1991 ceasefire ending a war that broke out when Morocco deployed its military in the former Spanish territory in 1975.

Rabat demanded a scaling back of the UN mission in retaliation for Ban's "occupation" remark, which was made early this month during a visit to a Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front.

Morocco, which considers the territory to be part of the kingdom and insists that its sovereignty cannot be challenged, has also decided to cut $3m in funding for the UN mission.

Read more on:    un  |  morocco  |  north africa

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