(Adds background on French role, paragraphs 3-4)
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted on Tuesday to keep peacekeepers in Western Sahara for six more months but shunned a plea that Morocco do more to safeguard human rights in the territory after France objected.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council proposed no new substantive steps for resolving Africa’s oldest territorial dispute, instead simply reaffirming the U.N. body’s support for a solution that would “provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”
Diplomats said France alone had initially objected to a Danish proposal that the resolution express concern about human rights violations by Morocco in the northwest African territory of some 260,000 people.
But France, a close ally of Morocco, eventually won over several other governments including the United States, Britain and Russia, who agreed to avoid all substantive issues in the resolution, they said. France declined comment on its role.
Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement have been at odds for three decades over whether Western Sahara gets a promised independence vote or remains part of Morocco.
“The Polisario Front regrets that ... the council was not able to reflect in its resolution a legitimate and justified concern regarding the violation of human rights in Western Sahara by Morocco, due to the open opposition of France,” Ahmed Boukhari, the front’s U.N. representative, told reporters.
Morocco seized Western Sahara in 1975 after former colonial power Spain withdrew, claiming centuries-old rights over the territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and possibly offshore oil.
That triggered a low-intensity guerrilla war that ended in 1991, when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire and sent in peacekeepers in anticipation of a self-determination vote.
But the referendum never took place and Morocco now insists the most it will offer residents is regional autonomy.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had urged the Security Council to push Morocco and the Polisario to agree to direct talks without preconditions in hopes of a solution.
The resolution as adopted made no reference to the U.N. leader’s proposal.
The measure authorized the 220 U.N. peacekeepers in the territory to keep enforcing the 1991 cease-fire accord through April 30, 2007. Had it not been renewed, the mission mandate would have run out at the end of Tuesday.