Rabat – A UN spokesperson reported yesterday that Morocco and the United Nations had reached an agreement to restore the full functioning of the UN mission in Western Sahara. To begin the process, 25 employees will return to the Western Sahara in the coming days.
In March, Morocco expelled the 84 international civilian personnel staffed on MINURSO, the UN mission in the region, after UN Secretary General referred to Moroccan presence in the Western Sahara as an “occupation.”
MINURSO was established in 1991 to organize a referendum determining whether the Western Sahara wished to remain a part of Morocco or become independent from the kingdom.
But after over a decade of efforts, the proposed referendum proved to be unworkable. The main bone of contention between Morocco and the Polisario is determining who is Saharawi, and who should be allowed to vote in such a referendum.
In April 2007, Morocco submitted to the United Nations Security Council the autonomy proposal, as way to allow the Saharawis to exercise their right to self-determination.
Following Morocco’s decision to expel MINURSO’s civilian component, the United Nations said that their mission, which includes 216 military observers, 26 troops, 12 volunteers, and 157 local civilian staff, cannot fulfil its mandate without the 84 expelled personnel. Analysts fear that the expulsion of these civilian workers could put the 25-year cease-fire at risk.
In late April, the Security Council voted to restore full functionality of the mission and extend its mandate in the region until 2017. They will revisit the issue on July 26 to assess whether MINURSO has returned to full functionality.
As the Security Council’s meeting draws nearer, Morocco and UN members have attempted to negotiate a path to full functionality. In mid-June, Morocco proposed readmitting 25 of the expelled civilian staff as a first step in the process.
On Wednesday, Spanish news agency EFE reported that the UN and Morocco had reached an agreement to restore full functionality of MINURSO, beginning by sending 25 personnel back to the region in the coming days.
The previous day, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that discussions between Morocco and the United Nations were “progressing.”