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PRESS RELEASE                                                                                                                   


26 October 2001



The Western Sahara Campaign UK today condemned two oil contracts between Total Elf Fina and Kerr McGee to exploit the oil resources of the territorial waters of Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco in 1975.

Under the contracts, Total Fina Elf may explore 115, 000 kilometre square area off the coast of Dakhla Western Sahara for a 12 month period.  Kerr McGee signed a deal to explore 110, 000 kilometre square area of deep water off the northern coast of Western Sahara.      

President of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, Mohamed Abdelaziz, said Wednesday that contracts signed by oil companies Kerr McGee and Total Fina Elf to explore the oil resources offshore Western Sahara were a "provocation."  The President appealed to the United Nations to annul the contracts with Morocco because they violate international law. 

Western Sahara is Africa's last colony.  Moroccan King Hassan II justified his brutal invasion in 1975, by saying, "One Kuwait in the Arab World is enough," meaning he did not want an independent minerals rich Western Sahara on his border. The UN planned to hold a vote on the sovereignty of Western Sahara prior to Hassan's invasion.  

The invasion violated an International Court of Justice ruling defining Western Sahara as a Non-Self-Governing Territory and recognising the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination and independence.    

In 1991, the UN resolved that:

"the exploitation and plundering of colonial and non-self-governing territories by foreign economic interests, in violation of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations is a grave threat to the integrity and prosperity of those Territories." A/res/46/64 (11 Dec 1991)   

The United Nations does not recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.  Both the UN Security Council (S/res/380,1975) and the UN General Assembly have "urged Morocco... to terminate the occupation of the Territory" (eg UN A/res/35/19 11 November 1980).

Richard Stanforth, spokesperson of the Western Sahara Campaign UK, says that in signing the contracts the companies are "trampling over the basic Human Rights of the Saharawi people. The contracts are an attempt to legitimise the brutal Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara"  "Most Saharawi people from Western Sahara are languishing in refugee camps struggling to survive.  They will not see a penny of this money.   All this money will go to help Morocco build up its army in Western Sahara."

Moreover Stanforth warned "it is very easy to sign a piece of paper but many oil companies have faced years of trouble after "buddying" up with repressive regimes and occupying powers.  One need only to think of Premier Oil in Burma, Shell in Nigeria  or the legal challenge over the territorial waters of East Timor."   

For further information contact Richard Stanforth on 0113 245 4786 or 0113 250 8353, e mail: wsc@gn.apc.org



Most Saharawi people fled Western Sahara in 1975 when over 300, 000 Moroccans invaded the former Spanish territory.  Over 165, 000 people (UNHCR) have spent the last 26 years in barren refugee camps in the Algerian desert waiting to return home and participate in a UN referendum to determine the sovereignty of Western Sahara, a vote the UN first promised in 1975.  From the refugee camps, Saharawis started a war of liberation under the banner of the Polisario Front liberation movement.  In 1991, Morocco and Polisario agreed to a UN Peace Plan enabling the Saharawi people to decide whether they want to be independent or part of Morocco.  After ten years of interviewing and nearly $500 million expended, the UN published a voting list of 86, 386 January 2000.  Morocco has not allowed the vote to go ahead unless over 100, 000 Moroccans are included.  The Polisario have stated that they will return to war if the UN does not allow the vote to proceed. 

International law provides the Saharawi people with right to reclaim their country from a "belligerent occupant", as the peoples of East Timor and Namibia did in recent years.    According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies (London) Morocco spends around $2 million daily on its armed occupation of Western Sahara.  Morocco constructed a fortified land wall over 1000 miles long to maintain its occupation.  Reuters believes 200, 000 Moroccan troops are stationed in Western Sahara.   

Gulf Oil, WB Grace, Texaco and Standard Oil were considering a joint venture with the Spanish authorities in the 1960s.  In the second half of the 1960's the US companies Pan American Hispano Oil, Caltex, Gulf Oil and Phillips undertook an exploration of 2443.192 hectares of  Western Saharan desert which led to the discovery of a small layer of 100 km at Faim el Oued.  In total 27 strata of oil were discovered in 1964. In 1978, offshore blocks were awarded to Philips and BP but were quickly abandoned because of the war.  In the basin between El Ayoun, Western Saharan capital and Tarfaya (Morocco) bituminous shale was discovered with reserves of 100 million barrels of crude but this can only profitably be extracted if oil prices rise to $40 a barrel.  Shell signed a contract to build a treatment works in 1981 but the work was never completed.

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