Norwatch revealed Monday that the Norwegian company Fugro-Geoteam is involved with seismic oil exploration offshore occupied Western Sahara, an area occupied by Morocco.
The engagement will prepare what UN legal experts define as a violation of international law.
The independence movement of the territory, Polisario Front, reacts strongly to the news, and underlines that it had already warned Fugro to stay away from the area a few years ago.
“We call on Fugro-Geoteam to immediately stop its exploration activities and withdraw its vessel from the territory henceforth”, said Kamal Fadel, a spokesperson on oil and gas matters for Polisario Front.
He said that the independence movement intended to send a letter to the company Tuesday, demanding their immediate halt of operations.
“It should be obvious to companies such as Fugro that they should not get involved in Western Sahara as long as it remains under Moroccan occupation. What Fugro-Geoteam is doing, is likely to embolden Morocco’s occupation, strengthen its quest to plunder our natural resources and encourage its defiance to international legality”, said Fadel.
He said Morocco is not the right party to deal with resources in Western Sahara at the moment, and that companies should exercise restraint in dealing with Morocco until the Saharawis are able to exercise their right to self-determination through the UN sponsored process.
Morocco has refused a UN referendum for self-determination to take place for over a decade, in disregard of over 100 UN resolutions.
”This is without doubt the most dangerous Norwegian involvement we’ve experienced in Western Sahara so far. If drilling is initiated as a consequence of their seismic exploration, there is a real danger that a new open war can break out in Western Sahara”, said Ronny Hansen of Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara in a press release.
The Norwegian oil workers’ trade union, Industry Energy, has condemned the engagement.
“Since before Norway self discovered oil, its governments have emphasized the importance of an equal distribution of the wealth generated by its natural resources. Morocco is now exploring, and intends to exploit petroleum in an area that they have occupied. Stealing an other country’s oil is reprehensible, and is contrary to all we stand for here in Norway, said its president Leif Sande on a statement on the union’s homepages Monday.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kristin Halvorsen, said to Norwegian daily newspaper Dagbladet Monday hinted that the company might be excluded from the Government’s Pension Fund, with reference to a similar engagement by – and exclusion of – an American company in 2005.
Fugro was already warned
The Polisario representative, Mr. Fadel, underlines that Fugro was warned already in 2004 against such activities, when the same Norwegian subsidiary undertook a similar assignment.
“The Government of the SADR, which is a full-fledged member of the African Union and recognised by over 70 countries world-wide, considers the activities of Fugro N.V. to be unauthorised, illegal and an insult to the Saharawi people. On this basis, we call for Fugro to either act in a responsible manner and cease its activities immediately or accept the full consequences for these actions”, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Sahrawi Republic warned Fugro in a letter dated 8 June 2004.
Read the entire letter from 2004 here .
Invites Fugro to camps
Kamal Fadel said that he also hopes the Norwegian company also would accept to learn first hand about the issue of Western Sahara and about the consequences of their actions.
“We hope the company would like to visit the refugee camps where a majority of the Sahrawi people today lives. In that way they can see for themselves the suffering that Morocco’s occupation has caused on our people. Perhaps that will make them see that supporting the Moroccan occupation is ethically wrong,” Fadel said.
A 2008 study by Norwegian Church Aid has established that one child out of five in the refugee camps are suffering from malnutrition. At the same time, the human rights situation for Sahrawis in the occupied territories is very severe, with frequent incidences of torture of human rights activists, according to a December 2008 report by Human Rights Watch.
Mr. Fadel said that Fugro is going against a trend which is marked by a slow but steady withdrawal of companies that made deals with Morocco in Western Sahara. Other companies have chosen to deal with the Saharawi republic and not engage in exploitation until the Saharawi republic is admitted to the UN.