The former president of Mozambique, Joachim Chissano, has warned that the conflict in Western Sahara could flare up again if the United Nations’ mission (MINURSO) is not fully restored.
Morocco last month expelled 84 UN civilian staff after Ban Ki-moon used the term ‘occupation’ in reference to the country’s annexation of the region.
Morocco took control of the arid country when colonial power Spain left in 1975.
The comment by the UN chief has enraged the north African country which has threatened to pull out its troops from global UN peacekeeping operations mainly in Africa.
Chissano, who is the African Union’s envoy to Western Sahara told an informal meeting of the UN Security Council that “the Western Sahara problem may be seen as a small problem, but let us not forget that a spark may put a forest on fire,” the BBC quoted him as saying.
He has also described the expulsion of the UN staff from the region as a “dangerous precedent” as other countries with Security Council-mandated peacekeeping and political missions could decide to expel UN troops and staff as well, the Associated Press reports.
The UN has said the departure of its staff has made it impossible for MINURSO to execute its mandate.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Polisario front, Mohamed Abdelaziz has warned that the absence of UN peacekeepers in the state could be considered a green light for military aggression by Morocco against the Sahrawi people.
The UN brokered a truce between Morocco and the indigenous Saharawi people in 1991 to end a 16-year insurgency.
It then set up MINURSO with the task of organising a referendum on the future of the territory, but that is yet to happen.