afrol News, 3 May - No country recognises Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, but Norway's Ambassador in Rabat in an interview is supporting it in order to promote legally dubious fishery investments in the region. The Ambassador yesterday was ordered home to Oslo to explain his controversial views and investment promotions in an occupied territory.
Norway's Ambassador in Morocco, Arne Aasheim, in an interview with the state broadcaster, NRK, has defended the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. In a TV documentary, which is to be aired this night, the "diplomatic double standards" of Norway's policies towards Western Sahara are clearly shown.
afrol News last year revealed that Ambassador Aasheim had visited the Moroccan-occupied capital of El Aaiun, where he together with the occupying power visited and promoted large-scale Norwegian fisheries investments. The waters off Western Sahara are among the world's richest but less exploited fisheries, but the UN explicitly has advised against foreign investments to exploit Western Sahara's natural resources.
This revelation came as a shock to the Polisario exile government, the internationally recognised representatives of the Sahrawi people. Mouloud Said, the Polisario Representative in Washington told afrol News that his government condemned the investment as an "attempt to strengthen the Moroccan occupation." Neither Ambassador Aasheim nor the Oslo Foreign Ministry at that stage were willing to comment the case.
Journalists from the documentary 'NRK Brennpunkt' in April however were able to interview Ambassador Aasheim in Rabat, and were astonished by his non-diplomatic statements. "Western Sahara is a part of Morocco, I cannot see it in any other way," he told the TV team. Regarding Norwegian fisheries investments, the Ambassador made no secret of his own agenda.
He and his predecessor have watered down instructions from Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen, advising against investments in Western Sahara's fisheries sector. They achieved funds from the Norwegian development agency to construct fishing vessels that mainly were given to Moroccan settlers in the occupied territory. Further, Mr Aasheim actively sought potential Norwegian investors for fishery operations in El Aaiun.
Only after receiving a transcript of Ambassador Aasheim's controversial statements to 'NRK Brennpunkt', officials at the Foreign Department have been willing to comment on the strange Norwegian double agenda in Western Sahara. Deputy Minister Vidar Helgesen told the state broadcaster that Mr Aasheim's promotion of the Moroccan occupation was not in line with Norway's Western Sahara policies. "It is not our Ambassador in Rabat who decides Norwegian policies," he said.
The Deputy Minister in an interview with NRK emphasised that "we do not recommend Norwegian business investments in Western Sahara and we do not support it economically." He further revealed that Mr Aasheim had been corrected by Oslo earlier. The Ministry had "stopped the support" for the Moroccan development aid project in Western Sahara when discovering it was "wrongly treated."
Further, Mr Helgesen had told the Ambassador "what I think about" last year's promotion visit to occupied El Aaiun. This, the Deputy Minister told NRK, was that "from a Norwegian point of view, this kind of visits should not take place."
Ambassador Aasheim yesterday was ordered back home to Oslo to explain his controversial statements to Foreign Minister Petersen, spokesman Eirik Bergesen at the Oslo Foreign Ministry told afrol News. Minister Petersen in particular had reacted to the "rhetoric" of the Ambassador's statements, Mr Bergesen said.
According to the spokesman, the Foreign Ministry already last year had made its "views very clear" on Norway's policies towards Western Sahara as it withdrew its financial support to a Moroccan development project in the occupied territory. "This type of financial support will be avoided in the future," the message had been, Mr Bergesen told afrol News. Therefore, there was no need for further policy adjustments.
The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara today however urged the Foreign Ministry to look into its policies. "The ambassador and Norway have lost credibility and are being seen by the oppressed Sahrawis as supporters of the illegal Moroccan occupation," spokesman Ronny Hansen told afrol News. He called on Minister Petersen "to further explain the Norwegian position. It worries us that Norwegian public and private investments in occupied Western Sahara have increased while Moroccan oppression and sabotage of the peace process have worsened," Mr Hansen added.
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