UN extends MINURSO in Western Sahara

UN Security Council adopts US-drafted resolution extending observer mission in disputed territory until October 31, calling for negotiations on ending conflict to resume.

UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council adopted Tuesday a resolution on Western Sahara, extending the observer mission in the disputed territory until October 31 and calling for negotiations on ending the conflict to resume.

The US-drafted resolution was adopted by a vote of 13 in favour in the 15-member council. South Africa abstained along with Russia.

The resolution calls on parties to resume negotiations to achieve a "just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara."

It comes after the United Nations held two rounds of exploratory talks between Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania on ending the decades-old conflict.

The meetings in Switzerland in December and in March marked the first time in six years that the sides sat down at the negotiating table, but little concrete progress was achieved.

UN envoy Horst Koehler is planning to convene a third round of talks, but no date has been set.

The United States hopes an extension of the 500-member MINURSO mission for six months instead of a year will put pressure on the sides to make progress toward a political solution.

The resolution was adopted just weeks after the resignation of long-serving Algerian leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose ruling party has supported the Polisario in their call for independence.

The United States dispatched Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale to Morocco, France and Belgium earlier this month for talks on the way forward.

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed and MINURSO was deployed to monitor the truce in the former Spanish colony.

The mission was to prepare a referendum on Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, but it never materialized.

Morocco, which annexed the territory after Spain withdrew in 1975, considers Western Sahara an integral part of the kingdom and has offered autonomy, but not an independence referendum.