Total turns its back on Dakhla block -French company decides not to renew licence off Western Sahara
December 3, 2004
TOTAL has not renewed its reconnaissance licence for the Dakhla block off Western Sahara, just south of Kerr-McGee's Boujdour permit.
The French company's contract with Morocco's Office for Hydrocarbons & Mines (ONHYM) expired on 18 November, although Western Sahara activists argue Rabat had no authority to issue licences.
Oslo-based activists in the Western Sahara Support Group claimed the move as a victory for its campaign.
"Two of the seismic companies TGS-Nopec and the Fugro Group which worked for Total and KMG, have recently decided not to proceed with this work due to the problematic ethical, political and legal aspects of such activities," the group said.
Kerr-McGee has not publicly indicated whether it has applied to renew its own permit, which was due to expire last month. The oil company declined to comment on industry rumours that unnamed US independents were considering options to farm in to Dakhla.
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, passed rapidly into the hands of Moroccan occupying forces after Spain left in 1976.
Since then, Polisario fighters have sought independence through an armed struggle and later through United Nations-sponsored negotiations.
The UN Legal Office has outlawed oil and gas drilling but left open the question of preliminary seismic exploration.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic's (SADR) Foreign Affairs Ministry this week insisted Kerr-McGee should end its "illegal operations" in Western Sahara immediately.
"No oil company should deal with the Moroccan government with respect to Western Sahara as no country or organisation recognises Morocco's sovereignty over the territory," the spokesman said.
South Africa recently joined African giants Nigeria and Algeria in recognising the SADR, leaving Rabat diplomatically isolated in Africa over the Western Sahara issue.
Alone on the continent, Morocco is not a member of the African Union. Last week it criticised neighbouring Algeria over its continuing support for the Polisario militia.
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