Sahrawi in Western Sahara: "Irish companies: leave our land!"
The news that Irish oil firms Island Oil & Gas, Longreach and San Leon have obtained a full exploration licence for an area near occupied Smara, has triggered a response from the native inhabitants of the territory. And it's not a welcoming one.
Just a few days ago, the three Irish oil companies announced the conversion of their reconnaissance licence for the Zag block into a full exploration licence. Since December 2006, these companies had been working together with the Moroccan state oil-company ONHYM in a quest for oil in Western Sahara, a Non-Self-Governing Territory that has been occupied by Morocco for over 30 years.
Controversial to say the least. When oil giants first started targeting occupied Western Sahara in 2001, it caused a debate in the UN. The UN's Legal Office concluded that "if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories". Read the entire Opinion here.
The licence-upgrade ONHYM awarded its Irish partners seems to have sparked protest among the people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi. Clearly, they don't deem the continued hunt for oil and possible exploratory drilling in conformity with their interests nor wishes.
Earlier this month, the Frente Polisario, recognized by the UN as the official representative of the Saharawi people, also pronounced its opposition to what it sees as “Moroccan provocations”. Morocco’s plans to speed up the illegal oil search at a time when both parties are supposed to resume peace talks “in good faith”, are hardly productive for the serene atmosphere needed to achieve a lasting settlement, which the UN's special envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, is working hard to progress.
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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