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PRESS RELEASE May 17 2004
Saharawi supporters target Wessex Exploration for its involvement in occupied Western Sahara
An international campaign was launched this week against Wessex Exploration, a London and Houston based oil company, in protest of its activities onshore occupied Western Sahara. In collaboration with Moroccan state owned oil company Onarep Wessex has begun exploration work in spite of the fact that Morocco has no sovereign or administrative rights over the Western Sahara's land or resources. A 2002 UN Legal Council ruling stated that profit can only be made from the disputed territory in the interests of its indigenous population, the Saharawi, whom Wessex has failed to involve. (see UN SC S/2002/161)
This has ignited the protest of Saharawi supporters throughout Europe, the USA and Australia who are demanding the company seeks discussion with the Polisario Front, the representative of the Saharawi population which has been split between refugee camps in Algeria and the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara since the invasion by Morocco in 1975.
A similar campaign was launched in 2003 against Norwegian company TGS Nopec, which was contracted to undertake seismic studies offshore the occupied territory. The weight of public pressure, leading to shareholder divestment and government disapproval, caused them to reconsider and withdraw. The company issued a public apology and renounced any further interest in doing business in occupied Western Sahara.
"If Wessex continues its activities in disregard of the rights of the Saharawi people the company will be seen as being complicit in the illegal occupation of Western Sahara." said Laura Smith of the Western Sahara Campaign UK, "If Wessex is concerned for its reputation it would be wise to either seek discussion with the Polisario Front or withdraw from its contract with the Moroccan government."
Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara provides a steady flow of economic benefits, most of which goes into the pockets of the Moroccan military and political elite the "mazkhen'. Profits from the extraction of resources such as phosphates and fish help to fund the massive security force present in the occupied territories. In February 2002 UN legal expert Hans Correll ruled that because Morocco has no tie of territorial sovereignty, profiting from the territory's natural wealth would be in violation of international law if it was not with permission of the indigenous population. Other companies looking to profit from the occupation of Western Sahara are American oil company Kerr McGee and French giant Total. Their activities are being followed by Saharawi supporters.
For forther info see http://www.arso.org or call Laura Smith 07752 484195
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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