The UN Security Council say they “regret” Somalia’s Somalia’s decision to expel a UN envoy who questioned the arrest of a political candidate with an extremist history.

The council released the statement after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres agreed to appoint a new UN envoy to replace Nicholas Haysom, who was declared persona non grata by the Mogadishu government on January 1.

Mr Haysom, a South African lawyer and experienced diplomat, was ordered to leave after he questioned the government’s arrest of Al Shabab defector Mukhtar Robow, who ran for election.

The British-drafted statement expressed “regret” for the decision and gave full support to the UN mission in Somalia. Council members reiterated “their expectation of full cooperation between Somalia and the United Nations”.

The council met behind closed doors on Friday to discuss a response to Somalia’s decision but China asked for more time to consider the text.

China presented amendments on Saturday to stress that the council respects Somalia’s “sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity,” diplomats said.

The council said 2019 will be a “critical year for Somalia” and called on its leaders “to work together to advance political and security reforms.”

On Friday, Mr Guterres’ spokesman said the UN chief “deeply regrets” the decision to expel Mr Haysom but that he nevertheless intends to appoint a new envoy.

Mr Guterres spoke twice by phone with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to urge him to reverse the decision but the Somali president told him that Mr Haysom would not be welcomed back.

Mr Haysom, who took up the post of UN envoy in October, warned the council during a meeting on Thursday that there was a risk of conflict during elections in Somalia’s federal states due to tensions with the central authorities.