The United Nations Security Council summoned its UN mission in Western Sahara on Thursday and told it to continue working at ‘’full capacity’’ in its first statement amid an escalating dispute between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Morocco.
Angolan Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins, who is serving as Security Council president for the month of March, released the statement to the press after a three hour long closed-door meeting.
The statement said, ‘’the importance of addressing in a constructive, comprehensive and cooperative manner the circumstances that led to the current situation so that MINUSRO may resume its full capacity to carry out its mandate."
The UN closed its military liaison office in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Tuesday due to a demand by Morocco. which was angered when Ban used "occupation" to refer to the presence of Morocco in the disputed region.
How did the dispute start?
Nearly one million people in Morocco marched in capital Rabat on March 13 to protest against Ban’s statement on the disputed Western Sahara territory.
After the protest, Ban said it was a personal attack on him over his statement about the disputed Western Sahara region, using the word "occupation" to describe Morocco’s presence in the region after a visit to refugee camps for the region's native Sahrawis this month in southern Algeria.
Morocco denounced Ban’s remarks over the protest and accused him of not being objective on the issue.
Morocco later ordered 84 UN staff members to leave its Western Sahara mission.
Gaspar Martins said Security Council members "expressed their serious concerns about the developments" and stressed that the UN’s 16 peacekeeping missions across the wold aim to provide international peace and security.
Fate of Western Sahara
Morocco considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara as an integral part of its territory since it took control of the region after the withdrawal of former colonial power Spain in 1975.
The Polisario Front, which is a nationalist movement in Western Sahara, fought against Morocco until a UN -brokered- ceasefire in 1991.
The Polisario Front, backed by Morocco’s regional rival Algeria and several African states, seeks a referendum promised in the ceasefire agreement. However, Morocco says that it will not allow anything more than autonomy for the region.