UN seeks to step up Western Sahara negotiations

New York - The UN Security Council is set to push for more intensive negotiations to settle the decades-old dispute over Western Sahara, at the centre of tensions between Morocco and African countries.

A draft resolution under discussion this week extends the mandate of the MINURSO peace mission for a year and calls for a political solution, diplomats said.

But the council will not amend MINURSO's mandate to include human rights monitoring as demanded by the African Union, according to the draft resolution obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The council is due on Wednesday to hear a closed-door briefing by UN envoy for Western Sahara Christopher Ross and the draft resolution is due to come up for a vote next Tuesday.

It remains unclear if the measure due to be discussed in meetings with all 15 members later this week will gain support from the three African countries at the council.

More intensive and substantive phase of negotiations

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 former Spanish 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 draft resolution calls on Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front representing the Sahrawi to "enter into a more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations" with a view to reaching a political solution.

This solution "will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara," the resolution says, in an apparent reference to demands by the Polisario Front for a referendum on statehood.

Tensions with Morocco

Ahead of the council meeting on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report calling on all sides to "seriously engage" with his envoy and step up efforts to resolve the conflict.

In February, Ross made his first regional visit in more than a year after falling out of favour with Morocco over his mandate.

Morocco accused Ross in 2012 of being partial in the dispute but last year shifted its stance and said it was ready to support his mediation efforts following a phone conversation between Ban and King Mohammed VI.

Relations with Morocco have been frayed over human rights and Ban suggested in his report that allowing UN rights monitors to Western Sahara would help advance peace prospects.

The draft resolution called for "independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights" and welcomed recent steps taken by Morocco to strengthen respect for rights.

A Spanish judge this month ruled that 11 Moroccan former security officials and governors should stand trial on genocide charges for killings and torture in Western Sahara from 1976 to 1991.

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