Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday expressed regret for “misunderstandings and consequences” resulting from his comparing refugee conditions in Western Sahara with those under occupation, but did not apologize or retract his “spontaneous personal reaction.

Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon

His remark while visiting North Africa earlier this month touched off a row with Morocco, which withdrew support for the UN Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, recalling the circumstances of the secretary-general’s use of the word “occupation”, said “he used it one single time in response to a press question, noting that he had been moved and saddened in which men, women and children have been living in for decades. His use of the word was not planned nor was it deliberate. It was a spontaneous personal reaction.”

Dujarric reiterated it did not signal any change in UN policy.

“We regret the misunderstandings and consequences of this personal expression of solicitude provoked especially since the main purpose of the secretary-general’s trip was to focus on the need for a mutually accessible way forward that would, among other things, alleviate the tribulations of the refugees,” the spokesman said at a daily news briefing here.

“What is now important is to overcome the current difficulties and enable the mission to resume its full capacities to carry out its Security Council mandated function,” Dujarric told reporters seeking a response to the Security Council’s reaction last Thursday to the problem.

“The secretary-general, his personal envoy Christopher Ross and his Special Representative Kim Bolduc are ready to spare no effort to help it to do so in a constructive, cooperative and comprehensive manner as members of the Security Council have requested.”

Last Thursday the UN Security Council expressed serious concern regarding the developments, especially as they related to the effective functioning of MINURSO, saying the mission was critical for the maintenance of peace and security.

“All member states and other actors should abide by their obligations under the charter and the decisions of the Security Council,” the spokesman said.

Morocco annexed the Western Sahara region after Spain, the colonial power, relinquished it in 1975. Rabat now refers to the region as its Southern Provinces. A referendum was then called for but terms were never agreed.

The Security Council established the MINURSO in 1991 but the referendum mandated was never agreed on.

Source: Xinhua

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