The United Nations has closed its military liaison office in the contested Western Sahara and withdrawn dozens of personnel from its mission there, known as MINURSO, as the spat between Morocco and the U.N. escalates.The expulsion of personnel comes as part of a Morocco backlash against the U.N. Secretary General for his use of the term “occupation” during a recent visit.
The dispute between the U.N. Secretary General and Morocco continues, without an end in sight. The U.N. said Rabat’s expulsion of U.N. personnel is contrary to the country’s agreement with the United Nations.
Under the deal for the U.N. mission in Western Sahara, set up in 1991, Morocco was to ensure that members of the mission can move freely in and out of the U.N. compound.
But now, the U.N. military liaison office is closed, more than 80 U.N. civilian staff have reportedly been expelled from what was a 500-strong mission, and Morocco is cutting $3-million dollars in funding.
Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General, Sot: “As long as the mission has been there, there has been a lessening of tensions. Right now, that system is in peril, and we cannot allow that to happen. And we cannot allow the principle to be upheld that member states can arbitrarily go against their ‘status of mission agreements’ and their commitments under the U.N. charter.”
The dispute was sparked this month after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara as an “occupation” following his visit to Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.
Ban’s comment angered Moroccan officials who criticized Ban for having lost his neutrality over the contested region, and sparked a massive demonstration in the capital.
Morocco wants the Secretary General to retract the comment, but Ban is not backing down. Adding to the dispute is a lack of a clear unified position from the U.N. Security Council.
Council members seem to be divided over whether to officially support the Secretary General’s position¡ including Morocco’s longtime ally France, along with Egypt, Senegal, Spain and Japan. The U.S. has also announced its support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the region.
Ban wants council backing, but he hasn’t received it, and his deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, in a comment seemingly directed at the council, warned that over time, a lack of statement can be interpreted as a statement on its own.