Morocco said the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon’s description of its annexation of Western Sahara as an “occupation” was not a misunderstanding but a “premeditated act to alter the nature of the dispute”.

Morocco’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday in Rabat that in the eyes of Morocco, they were premeditated acts to alter the nature of the dispute.

It said at this level of responsibility, words have meaning, political and legal consequences, and personal opinions have no place.

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The UN spokesman had earlier said that Ban regretted the “misunderstanding” over his use of the word, which led to Morocco expelling dozens of UN staff from its mission in the disputed territory.

The standoff over Ban’s comment is Morocco’s worst disagreement with the United Nations since 1991, when the U.N. brokered a ceasefire to end a war over Western Sahara and established a peacekeeping mission there known as MINURSO.

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Morocco took over most of the territory in 1975 from colonial Spain.

That started a guerrilla war with the Sahrawi people’s Polisario Front, which says the desert territory in the northwest of Africa belongs to it.

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and sent in its MINURSO mission to help organize a referendum on the future of the territory.

But the sides have been deadlocked since then.

The office accused Ban of losing his neutrality in the dispute.

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It said it also had differences with the UN chief over his reference to the referendum during his visit to the Western Saharan refugee camps in Tindouf in southern Algeria.

Morocco also criticised Ban for visiting Bir Lahlou town, which it considers part of the buffer zone with the Polisario front.

It said he had also signalled acknowledgement of the flag of the Polisario’s self-declared Arab Sahrawi Republic (SADR). (Reuters/NAN)