The UN Security Council said on its meeting on Tuesday that more staff of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) must return to Western Sahara after Morocco allowed a first group of 25 staffers back at their posts.
Morocco expelled dozens of UN personnel in March in angry retaliation for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's use of the term "occupation" to describe the status of Western Sahara.
According to resolution adopted in April, MINURSO will return to "full functionality" after three months, given to Morocco to reach the goal. Now as the deadline ends, the decision should be made. Before the staff reductions, MINURSO had nearly 500 military and civilian personnel.
Following a closed-door council meeting, Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho, who holds the council presidency, said: "We have not reached that goal of full functionality. Moves are certainly needed." Council members hope that the mission will be fully restored "as soon as possible," he added.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said there had been progress in resolving the dispute.
Morocco this month allowed 25 UN staffers to return to Laayoune, where MINURSO is headquartered, but the United Nations is demanding that the staffing level be fully restored. But there are no figures or a timetable for the returning staff.
The Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which has long campaigned for a referendum on self-rule, said it expected more staff to return in the coming weeks. The Sahrawi people's movement, which demands self-determination for Western Sahara, wants a referendum on independence, which could be backed by UN.
The Polisario Front's UN representative, Ahmed Boukhari, however accused Morocco of blocking attempts by the United Nations to re-launch negotiations on settling the 40-year conflict.
Council members stressed the importance of resuming negotiations on a "political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara," added the Japanese ambassador.
The dispute over Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975 following Spain’s withdrawal, has lingered for decades and was a thorn in Morocco’s regional and foreign relations. Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom despite UN resolutions that task MINURSO with organizing a referendum on self-determination.