UN's Harston Removed from W. Sahara As Quid Pro Quo for Van Walsum, Ban Too Quiet as on Fowler, Diplomats Say

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, March 9 — The UN’s envoy to Western Sahara, Julian Harston, has unceremonious left that post, and been reassigned to the UN Office in Belgrade, Serbia. Inner City Press is told, by Polisario and other diplomatic sources, that Harston’s removal from Western Sahara was a « quid pro quo… The pro-Morocco [Peter] Van Walsun was taken out, or took himself out, and so Morocco demanded that Harston leave, tit for tat, » one senior diplomat told Inner City Press.
At the UN noon briefing on March 5, Inner City Press asked Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson Michele Montas to confirm and explain Harston’s removal from Western Sahara and reassignment to Belgrade. Even those the move, though not the reason, had been noted in the Balkan press, Ms. Montas said she didn’t have information about it, would look into and update Inner City Press.
This did not take place that day or the next, and so on March 7 Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas’ deputy, Marie Okabe, who was listed as on-duty that day. On March 8, Ms. Okabe replied merely that « we are looking into it. » Inner City Press directly asked for UN comment on the diplomat’s « quid pro quo » quote. A day later, none has been received.
How can it be that Ban’s Spokesperson’s Office still has « no information » about the new assignment given to Harston, and why?
Compared with the UN’s ongoing silence about its ostensible envoy to Niger Robert Fowler, who was abducted in December while traveling in that country in a UNDP vehicle but without any UN security, Harston perhaps « got off easy, » one of the Africa-focused diplomats remarked, adding that the Ban Administration’s lack of transparency is making it more difficult for the UN to recruit qualified envoys to other countries, particularly in Africa. They claim they are withholding their short list of candidates to replace Kermal Dervis at UNDP, he continued, out of respect for those who applied. At that level, it’s an absurd concern. But silence on Fowler, and selling out Harston, that hurts them with people who might otherwise apply. It’s a race to the bottom.

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