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Morocco Orders 84 UN Peacekeepers Out of Western Sahara

FILE - Protesters hold a banner and the Moroccan flag at a rally in Rabat as they accuse U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of "abandoning neutrality" during a recent visit to Western Saharan refugee camps in southern Algeria, March 13, 2016.

Morocco has ordered 84 U.N. peacekeepers out of Western Sahara after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Moroccan authority over the territory an "occupation."

Morocco, which considers the area as part of Morocco itself, accused Ban of giving up his "neutrality" on the matter. The Foreign Ministry gave the U.N. mission three days to withdraw its members, calling its decision "irreversible."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the forced withdrawal of such a large number of staff would "seriously impede" the mission's functioning and violated the deal between Morocco and the U.N.

"It hits the mission across the board," Dujarric said, presenting a "logistical challenge [that] goes to the heart of the mission's ability to pursue its mandate."

The Security Council held a closed-door meeting on the situation Thursday.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975. The Algerian-backed Polisario Front rebels fought for independence for the region before a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in 1991.

The U.N. is supposed to be officially neutral on the situation.