un, flag, united nation.jpg
Photograph: Pixabay.com / edgarwinkler

The UN mission in the disputed Western Sahara region has not been restored to its full functionality, members of the UN Security Council said Tuesday, despite the council's call for the return of UN staff who had been previously kicked out by Morocco.

The Security Council was briefed on the situation after Morocco had ordered the UN to pull out most of its international civilian staffers - more than 70 people - in March in a diplomatic standoff between the country and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

At the end of April, the council gave 90 days for the restoration of the mission, known as MINURSO, to its full capacity. The UN had said that so far 25 UN staffers had been allowed back into the region, which is under Moroccan control.

Koro Bessho, Japanese ambassador to the UN and current president of the council, said that council members "welcomed the progress" made so far to restore the mission.

"At the same time, the Security Council members expressed strong hope that this goal - return to full functionality of MINURSO - can be reached as soon as possible," he said Tuesday.

Omar Hilale, Moroccan ambassador to the UN, said his country was committed to cooperating with the UN to restore the mission without specifying the number of UN staffers Morocco will allow back into Western Sahara under an agreement struck with the UN.

"The problem is not the number - the problem is the functionality, the problem is the efficiency, the problem is the mandate," Hilale said.

In a letter dated June 22, the Polisario Front, a movement demanding independence for Western Sahara, called on the Security Council to take "steps within a definitive timeframe" to ensure that Morocco does not interfere with the UN mission's work.

"A continuation of the status quo is unacceptable," the letter said. "It signals that the council has unfortunately lost its way on Western Sahara."

The letter also called for the resumption of the political process to find a lasting solution for the issue of Western Sahara.

Morocco has been at odds with the UN since March after Ban called Morocco's control of the disputed region an "occupation" during a visit to a camp of Western Sahara refugees in Algeria.

The Polisario Front, which is supported by neighbouring Algeria, seeks a referendum to decide the fate of the region. However, Morocco refuses to discuss the possibility of independence and is only willing to consider giving the region autonomy.

The UN mission to the region has a mandate to prepare a referendum, however, little progress has been made mainly due to Morocco's pressure.

The long-standing dispute over Western Sahara began in 1975 with Morocco's takeover of the region after Spain's withdrawal.

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