- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MADRID (AP) - A top member of a group seeking independence for Western Sahara warned Tuesday that war is possible over the disputed territory annexed by Morocco if the U.N. Security Council fails to set a timetable for a vote on self-determination.

Bachir Mustafa Sayed of the Polisario Front told reporters in Madrid that it’s not enough for the U.N. Security Council to simply restore the peacekeeping mission’s role of monitoring a cease-fire between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front.

Under its auspices, Morocco has proposed a wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara, a sparsely populated, mineral-rich region the size of Colorado on its southern border.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended extending the peacekeeping mission’s mandate until April 30, 2017 and the Security Council is expected to vote on the topic Thursday. It has called for the mission to continue but is divided on the way ahead.

Morocco expelled most of the U.N. mission’s civilian staff last month after Ban used the word “occupation” to refer to the situation following a visit to Western Sahara refugee camps in Algeria.

Ban warned last week that the expulsions will likely be exploited by “terrorist and radical elements” and could lead to full-scale war.

Sayed, a counselor to Polisario Front Secretary-General Mohammad Abdulaziz, downplayed speculation that Algerian support for Western Sahara’s independence could wane if the health of longtime Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika deteriorates.

The 79-year-old leader suffered a stroke in 2013 and was in Geneva this week for more medical tests.

“The Algerians have reaffirmed that they are on the side of the Saharans in any situation,” Sayed said.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and considers it the country’s “southern province.” The Polisario Front has rejected the Moroccan government’s offer of autonomy and wants locals to vote on self-determination as has been called for in U.N. resolutions.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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