RABAT - More than 80 civilian members of a UN mission have left Western Sahara under a Moroccan expulsion order, airport sources and an AFP correspondent in the disputed territory said Sunday.
It was the latest chapter in a row between Morocco and the world body since UN chief Ban Ki-moon angered Rabat by using the term "occupation" to refer to the status of Western Sahara.
"The last civilian members of the UN mission... took off on Sunday at 6 pm on a flight to Casablanca," said an airport source in the territory's main city of Laayoune.
The departures raised to 83 the number of staffers of the MINURSO mission in Western Sahara who have left since Saturday, leaving behind a pregnant member who was unable to travel.
The United Nations has said the removal of the civilian staff from the 500-strong MINURSO would deal a crippling blow to the mission, affecting drivers, technicians and communications experts.
The military force would not be able to operate without the civilian component, the UN's top political affairs official, Jeffrey Feltman, warned last week.
The United Nations has been trying to broker a Western Sahara settlement since a 1991 ceasefire ending a war that broke out when Morocco deployed its military in the former Spanish territory in 1975.
Rabat demanded a scaling back of the UN mission in retaliation for Ban's remarks during a visit to a Sahrawi refugee camp in early March in Algeria, which supports the territory's pro-independence Polisario Front.
Morocco, which considers the territory to be part of the kingdom and insists that its sovereignty cannot be challenged, has also decided to cut $3 million in funding for the UN mission.
Ban is to raise the MINURSO issue with UN Security Council ambassadors in New York on Monday, after the Council met last week but failed to urge Morocco to reverse the drastic cuts.