By Louis Charbonneau
The United Nations Security Council renewed for another year the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara but failed to accept African Union recommendations for changes to the force’s mandate.
The 15-nation council unanimously adopted a U.S.-drafted resolution extending the mandate for the Western Sahara mission, known as MINURSO, until April 30, 2016.
Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting the Polisario Front independence movement to wage a guerrilla war lasting until 1991, when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in MINURSO.
Rabat rejects calls for MINURSO to conduct human rights monitoring and says the African Union has no business meddling in the issue. It says the territory should have autonomy, not independence, a view rejected by Polisario. Morocco is not a member of the African Union because of Western Sahara.
Polisario runs refugee camps at Tindouf in Algeria.
After the resolution was adopted, a Malaysian delegate complained about a lack of transparency in negotiations on the resolution.
The draft was initially presented to the so-called Group of Friends on Western Sahara – the United States, France, Spain, Britain and Russia – before being shared with the Security Council.
African delegates have complained that Africa is not represented in the “Friends.”
French Deputy Ambassador Alexis Lamek said the resolution gave “necessary impetus to the political process” in Western Sahara, which has stalled over the past year.
Morocco Ambassador Omar Hilale also welcomed the resolution and defended his country against accusations of exploitation of Saharan natural resources, saying it was legal.
Western Sahara is rich in phosphates and potentially, offshore oil and gas. Polisario has complained about Western companies searching for natural resources based on Moroccan permits.
The African Union had again called for MINURSO to take on human rights monitoring, as most U.N. peacekeeping missions do, but the resolution did not call for that. It had also wanted the resolution to explicitly state that MINURSO’s job is to organize a referendum.
The only reference to a plebiscite is when MINURSO is spelled out: United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.
Polisario’s U.N. representative Ahmed Bouhkari issued a statement welcoming the African Union’s support but deploring “the position of France, which remains the main obstacle to a just and durable peace in Western Sahara.”
France is a traditional ally of Morocco.
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)