Morocco allows 25 UN staffers to return to Western Sahara

Five UN staffers have returned to the UN mission in disputed Western Sahara.

AFP| Updated: Jul 15, 2016, 10:59 AM IST

United Nations: Five UN staffers have returned to the UN mission in disputed Western Sahara, the first in a group of 25 heading back four months after Morocco expelled them, the UN spokesman said Thursday.

Morocco cut back the staff of the MINURSO mission in angry retaliation over UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon`s use of the term "occupation" to describe the status of the territory it claims as its own.

The five UN personnel arrived in Laayoune, where the MINURSO mission is headquartered, on Wednesday evening.

"We expect additional staff members to be returning in the coming days," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Dujarric described talks with Morocco on restoring the full Western Sahara mission as "constructive" and said MINURSO should be fully up and running soon.

The Security Council is due to discuss Western Sahara on July 26.

The council in April adopted a resolution demanding that the mission should be brought back to full operations and set a three-month deadline for measures to be taken.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom despite a UN resolution that tasks MINURSO with organizing a referendum on self-determination.

MINURSO was established in 1991 after a ceasefire ended a war that broke out when Morocco sent troops to the former Spanish territory in 1975 and fought Sahrawi rebels of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The UN envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, is expected to pay a visit to the region although no firm date has been set, Dujarric added.