International campaign puts pressure on U.S. oil corporation profiting from Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.
Kerr-McGee new focus of Western Sahara Resource Watch
March 3, 2005
By Friends of the Western Sahara (friendsofthewesternsahara.org)
This week activists from twenty countries opened up a campaign against the U.S. energy corporation Kerr-McGee, which is colluding with the Moroccan government to exploit the occupied Western Sahara.
The aim of the campaign is to pressure Kerr-McGee's shareholders into forcing the Oklahoma City-based corporation out of its dealings with the Moroccan government.
In 2001, the Moroccan government entered into an agreement with Kerr-McGee (NYSE: KMG) and France's Total to explore the possible offshore Western Saharan oil reserves. Total later abandoned its stake.
In 1975, Morocco invaded the Western Sahara. At that time, the Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. Spain, under pressure from the US, handed its colony over to Morocco before the indigenous population could vote on its own future. Although the International Court of Justice and several UN security council and general assembly resolution have called on Morocco to allow the Western Saharans their right to self determination, the monarchical and authoritarian regime in Morocco has refused to allow a vote.
So long as the population is not allowed to vote, the Western Sahara is officially Africa's last colony. It is widely believed that the Western Saharans -- often called "Sahrawis" -- would overwhelmingly vote for independence if given the chance.
No country in the world recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, although over 70 countries have recognized the Western Sahara's government-in-exile.
Despite Moroccan intransigence, the Western Saharan independence movement, known as the Polisario Front, has participated in a UN-organized peace process since 1991. Before then, the Polisario, with strong backing from neighboring Algeria, waged a successful guerilla war against the Moroccan occupation. The Polisario operates from refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, where a majority of Sahrawis fled in 1976 following the brutal Moroccan seizure of their homeland.
Richard Knight, a member of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars and spokesperson of Western Sahara Resource Watch, noted that "It is remarkable that Kerr-McGee does still not understand the political, legal and humanitarian dimensions of the catastrophe they are inflicting to the Sahrawi people. For three years, the company has refused to listen to our arguments. Now we hope to get some assistance from their shareholders."
Since Kerr-McGee signed the reconnaissance contract in 2001, Morocco has blocked the UN-supported peace process. Morocco has even rejected a generous plan put forward by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and endorsed by the U.S. in the UN security council. Kerr-McGee's activities have already stalled peace efforts and contributed to rising tension between Algeria and Morocco.
One major investor has already divested from Kerr-McGee -- the Norwegian fund administrator Skagenfondene has sold its 100.000 shares, taking a two million dollar loss. Due to the massive negative attention on Kerr-McGee's activities in the occupied territories, they regarded the shares as too risky. Now the government-owned Norwegian Petroleum Fund is considering if it should sell its shares, estimated to be worth over $7 million.
The campaign requests the shareholders to play a role as active investors, influencing KMG not to renew its contract with Morocco on May 1st. If the constructive shareholder pressure does not succeed in changing the KMG policy, the campaign demands the investors to divest.
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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