The Norwegian NGO Western Sahara Resources Watch (WSRW) has written to the chief executive of the Rand Merchant Bank to ask that RMB refuse to bankroll the Irish company Island Oil & Gas which recently acquired a block in Western Sahara from Morocco's Office National des Hydrocarbures et des Mines (ONHYM). Africa Energy Intelligence, N° 46102/04/2008
The organization is counting on the fact that South Africa is one of the rare countries to officially recognize the Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). For some years the Norwegian NGO has acted as a watchdog of sorts for the Polisario Front and has systematically put pressure on oil groups which buy acreage from Rabat. The SADR has every interest in shooing away companies acquiring blocks in Western Sahara from Morocco because it is presently organizing its own licensing round on the disputed territory.
Still, oil companies aren't all that interested in the round despite the low entry fee: USD 30,000 per year for blocks until the official recognition of the country by the UN. In the past, the Norwegian firm's lobbying has already scared away firms like Total, Kerr McGee and Baraka Petroleum. WSRW's move to contact the bank was the first it had aimed at financiers of oil companies.
[WSRW editors note: WSRW is not a Norwegian NGO (as AEI says), but rather an international non-governmental coalition of organisations and individuals working for the protection of natural resources in Western Sahara, with member organizations in around 30 countries. ]
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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