Ban Ki moon visited a refugee camp in Algeria that is home to people displaced by conflict in Western Sahara and he uttered remarks that created a diplomatic maelstrom.

Ban referred to the quote “occupation” of Western Sahara, by the government of Morocco.

UN Photo/Evan Schneider

UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Morocco responded with a massive government sponsored protest in the streets of Rabat, and also ceased cooperation with a UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, including evicting civilian members of that mission. It has also threatened to pull its own troops from UN peacekeeping missions worldwide.

All because of a word.

With me to put this current diplomatic crisis into the larger context of the decades old dispute over the proper status of Western Sahara is Fiyola Hoosen-Steele. She is not a disinterested observer of this crisis. As the UN representative of the diplomatic advisory firm Independent Diplomat, she works with political representatives of the Western Saharan independence movement, known as the Frente Polisario. She explains the roots of the conflict in Western Sahara and the current diplomatic obstacles to its resolution.

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