Occupier concluded tender for entrenching occupation

The Moroccan government has just closed a tender to dig 4000 cubic meters of soil as part of search for minerals in occupied Western Sahara. 

21 April 2022

The Moroccan government's state oil company National Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines (ONHYM) last week closed the window for yet another tender as part of its mineral exploration in the part of Western Sahara that Morocco keeps under illegal occupation. 

The invitation is to dig 4000 cubic meters of soil, in the shape of a total of 1,3 km of trenches, three meters deep and one meter wide. 

Trenching is a common mineral exploration technique, through which rock samples are taken at regular intervals - for instance, every meter - for geochemical analysis. The digging is to get to slightly fresher and more representative rock below the excavated sand/gravel cover.

The now closed tender follows just one year after ONHYM had issued a similar tender, which was won by a Moroccan firm. Last year's operation was somewhat smaller - involving 800 meters in length and a total of 2400 cubic meters soil volume.

The zones corresponding to the tenders of 2021 and 2022 can be seen on the above map, plotted by WSRW. This year's tender closed on 14 April 2022. 

As always, ONHYM refers to the location in the tender documents as being in its 'Southern Provinces'. This is how Morocco refers to the territory that the UN, the International Court of Justice, the EU Court of Justice, and the African Union have all rejected Morocco's claims to. 

ONHYM itself, together with Canadian company Metalex, is a joint-venture partner in the mineral exploration in the same area of Western Sahara. Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) wrote earlier this month that reports from Metalex suggest that the company is proceeding in its partnership with ONHYM. It is not clear to WSRW if there is any relationship between the trenching programme described in these tenders and ONHYM's controversial partnership with Metalex on the illegally occupied territory. 

According to the geographical coordinates in the tender document, the work will be carried out in only one of four ‘proposed zones' in the southern part of occupied Western Sahara, south-southeast of Dakhla. ONHYM will make the final decision on which exact zone to explore, after obtaining the necessary approvals from the Moroccan army. 

The area included in the now closed tender, has been subject to geochemical analysis by Morocco in the past. Recently published documents entitled “Recherche Strategique” [or download] and "Geochemical Surveys in Southern Provinces of Morocco" [or download] show the status of those studies.

The UN Legal Office already in 2002 concluded that any further mineral exploration in the territory would be in violation of international law unless undertaken in accordance with the wishes of the Saharawi people. Since 2016, the EU Court of Justice has come with five consecutive rulings that EU-Moroccco's trade agreements cannot cover the territory, as Western Sahara is not part of Morocco and because the people of Western Sahara have not consented to having their land affected by such agreements. 

See the following documents of the 2022 ONHYM trenching tender: 
The description [or download]
The rules [or download]
The tender letter [or download in French and Arabic]

Illustration from ONHYM's tender for excavating a 4000 cubic meter trench, 2022. 


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