Reuters International

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States has proposed that the U.N. Security Council demand a restoration of the full capability of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in disputed Western Sahara that has been crippled by Morocco's expulsion of civilian staff, envoy said.

The 15-nation council is due to decide this week on extending the mission's mandate, which expires on Saturday. The United States has drafted a resolution calling for immediate restoration of "full functionality" of the U.N. Western Sahara mission, diplomats said on condition of anonymity on Wednesday.

Morocco expelled dozens of international U.N. civilian staff from MINURSO after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month referred to the North African nation's 1975 annexation of the region from Spain as an "occupation."

The U.S. draft's proposed terminology, council diplomats said, suggests the mission, known as MINURSO, should be restored to staffing levels comparable to what they were before the Moroccans ordered civilian personnel out of the country.

"Full functionality ... means being able to fulfil the whole mandate including the civilian part of the mandate, which has at its centre the preparation of an eventual referendum on the political future of the territory," a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

This view was echoed by Mhamed Khadad of the Sahrawi people's Polisario Front separatist movement, which wants a referendum on independence for Western Sahara. Morocco says it will only grant autonomy.

Khadad told reporters that Polisario wants the council "to demand the immediate restoration of MINURSO to its mandated status quo ante, including by use of sanctions against Morocco, if necessary."

Rabat has called its decisions, though one diplomat said the United States and Morocco were discussing MINURSO's future at the foreign minister level ahead of the council vote, tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

The U.S. draft also calls for Ban to report within 60 days on whether MINURSO has "full functionality".

Several council diplomats said Morocco's traditional ally France, a permanent veto power on the council, along with Senegal have been pushing for a simple "technical rollover" for another year without calling for "full functionality". Such a move, they said, risks making MINURSO's reductions permanent.

The controversy over Ban's "occupation" comment, made during a visit to refugee camps for Sahrawi people in southern Algeria, is the worst dispute between the U.N. and Morocco since 1991, when the international body brokered a ceasefire to end a war between Rabat and rebels fighting for independence in Western Sahara. MINURSO was established at that time.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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