US postpones UN vote on Western Sahara

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The United States postponed a vote scheduled on Wednesday at the UN Security Council on preparing talks on Western Sahara to allow for more time for negotiations, diplomats said.

A draft resolution presented by the United States last week would press Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front to set their sights on a return to the negotiating table to seek a settlement to the decades-old conflict.

Diplomats said Russia and Ethiopia had proposed amendments to the text after complaining that it lacked balance, indicating that Morocco's stance was given more prominence.

The US mission told council members on Tuesday that it "needs a bit more time to consider" the proposed changes and planned to circulate a new draft resolution, according to an email message seen by AFP.

The draft resolution is to renew for one year the mandate of the small UN mission monitoring a ceasefire in Western Sahara but it also lays the groundwork for a return to talks.

Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario's insistence on an independence referendum.

The draft resolution "emphasizes the importance of the parties' commitment to advancing the political process in preparation for a fifth round of negotiations."

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A fourth round of UN-brokered negotiations on a Western Sahara settlement was held in 2008.

The draft resolution sets no timetable for re-launching talks, but stressed "the need to make progress toward a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution to the question of Western Sahara."

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire was reached and the UN mission deployed to monitor the truce.

The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario in 1976, is a full member of the African Union.

The mostly desert territory has rich fishing grounds off its coast and may have untapped offshore oil deposits.

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