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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
UN to stay in Western Sahara
Tent city in Western Sahara
Status of the territory has been in dispute since 1976
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara for another six months.

Western Sahara conflict
Colonial power Spain left in 1975
Morocco controls most of the territory
Polisario Front wants independence
Independence recognised by African Union
UN force keeping peace since 1991 ceasefire
200,000 refugees live in Algeria
The UN mission in Western Sahara (Minurso) has helped maintain the peace between the two sides that claim sovereignty over this region - the Moroccan Government and the Saharawi people, represented by their political arm, the Polisario Front.

Both sides have agreed to hold a referendum on the territory's future but they cannot agree on who is eligible to vote.

Polisario accuses Morocco of trying to rig the outcome by putting thousands of recent Moroccan settlers on the voters' roll.

Morocco says they are genuine Saharawis.

Some 200,000 Saharawi refugees live in camps in south-east Algeria, while Morocco remains in control of the territory.

'No partition'

Correspondents say the 15-member council was deeply divided over the mission's future.

Hours before the UN decision, Moroccan King Mohammed told national television that he would never give up his claims to the territory.

King Mohammed of Morocco
The king will not give up Western Sahara

"We proclaim again our will to protect our territorial integrity... We categorically reject any partitionist option of the Moroccan Sahara," the king said in a lengthy speech.

The BBC's Greg Barrow at the UN in New York says it is an intractable and costly dispute that has seen the United Nations locked into maintaining a peacekeeping mission in a remote desert area for the past decade.

The force has 230 soldiers and 35 international police.

Long term solution

Despite repeated diplomatic initiatives, all efforts to move the sides closer to a referendum have failed.

The latest resolution adopted by the UN Security Council seeks to find a new way out of an impasse that has blocked progress in recent years.

Saharawi refugees
Tens of thousands of refugees remain in camps in southern Algeria

It expresses support for the work of James Baker, the personal envoy of the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, and encourages him to continue his pursuit of a solution.

This time however, Mr Baker will have more freedom to seek a new approach rather than building on old diplomatic initiatives that failed to draw the support of both Morocco and Polisario.

But our correspondent says that few diplomats are holding their breath for a solution in six months' time.

See also:

23 Nov 01 | Africa
01 Mar 01 | Africa
27 Jan 99 | Africa
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