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Security Council to Vote on Restoration of Western Sahara Mission

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

The U.N. Security Council plans to vote by Friday on a U.S. resolution demanding full restoration of the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara after Morocco expelled 83 staffers last month.

Drafts of the resolution say the mission's ability to carry out its mandate has been affected, particularly civilian efforts to put together a referendum on Western Sahara's political future.

The current mission in Western Sahara expires Saturday, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned of "full-scale war" if the peacekeeping mandate is not renewed.

He told the council that "terrorists and radical elements" could be expected to exploit the situation.

"The risk of a rupture of the cease-fire and resumption of hostilities, with its attendant danger of escalation into full-scale war, will grow significantly in the event that MINURSO [the U.N. peacekeeping mission] is forced to depart or finds itself unable to execute the mandate that the Security Council has set," Ban said this month.

The mission in Western Sahara began in 1991 to monitor a cease-fire between Morocco and independence fighters from the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and considers it part of its territory.

During a recent visit to a camp in Algeria for Western Saharan refugees, Ban infuriated Morocco by calling it an "occupation."

Morocco responded by expelling 83 U.N. staffers and shutting down a military liaison office, severely hobbling the mission.