- The French oil giant Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) has announced its withdrawal from its controversial operations offshore Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. The company claims there were no recoverable oil or gas deposits in the area.
The withdrawal of the French oil giant nevertheless today was welcomed by the internationally recognised representation of the Saharawi people, the exiled government of the Saharawi Republic organised by the Polisario. The pro-independence movement had never authorised the engagement of Total and other Moroccan-engaged oil companies in the area.
The Saharawi Ministry of Foreign Affairs today issued a statement, saying it noted Total ending ts involvement in Western Sahara, "by withdrawal from its illegal contract with the Moroccan government to prospect for oil in the offshore territory of the Saharawi Republic."
The Polisario at the same time urged Kerr McGee, "the only remaining oil company operating illegally in Western Sahara," to end its operations immediately. International oil companies in general "should avoid Morocco's attempts to implicate them in its illegal occupation of Western Sahara," the exiled government said.
- 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 Polisario statement added. The Saharawis again pointed to a legal opinion by the UN of January 2002, saying oil exploitation offshore Western Sahara would be against international law if contracted by Morocco.
Total was contracted by Moroccan authorities to explore a large block offshore occupied Western Sahara, despite the protest by Saharawi authorities and pro-Saharawi organisations around the world. The French oil giant never responded to these complaints.
As Total now has withdrawn from offshore Western Sahara, the company claims there is "no oil or other hydrocarbons that can be exploited in this area." The contract between Total and Moroccan authorities expired two weeks ago and Total had made no attempts to renew it due to these poor exploration results.
This is however termed "a lie" by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, which earlier led a successful campaign to oust the Norwegian seismic company TGS-Nopec from the Moroccan-occupied waters. Ronny Hansen of the Committee claims Total does not want to admit that the growing political unrest over its presence in Western Sahara caused the company to leave.
Mr Hansen today told the Norwegian press that Total does not yet have sufficient evidence to say whether there are oil resources offshore Western Sahara or not, something that can only be established through drilling wells. Officially, Total has not been drilling in the area, as this would counter the UN's legal opinion on which operations are legal in an occupied territory.
Total now has become the third international oil company withdrawing from offshore Western Sahara, following a Norwegian and a Dutch seismic company. According to Mr Hansen, this has mostly been due to pressure from European pro-Saharawi organisations. The only remaining oil company, Texan Kerr-McGee, will now be at the focus of these groups, Mr Hansen emphasises.
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