The Saharawi people staged their demonstration against seismic surveying by the Anglo-Irish energy company in the disputed territory, that was once Spain’s colony in North Africa before being annexed by Morocco.
“We completely reject the activities of those companies which are plundering our resources on a daily basis. As you can see, the people live in exile in brick-houses and tents. So we strongly, condemn the illegal exploitation of our resources,” said a young Saharawi woman taking part in the protest.
Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) said that the rights of the Saharawi people were completely ignored when San Leon chose to strike a deal with the Moroccan government to explore for oil within the occupied territory.
“This has caused frustration and anger with the Saharawis, who – as a direct result of the ongoing occupation – are forced to live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert, or under the brutal rule of the Moroccan authorities in their occupied homeland,” a spokesman from the WSRW told The Local.
“A possible oil find will only entrench Morocco's already uncompromising position in the UN led peace talks, making the chances of a peaceful resolution to this long-lingering conflict ever more slim.”
When in 1975 colonial power Spain withdrew from the Western Sahara, it was annexed by Morocco leading to a 15 year war with the Algerian-backed Polisario.
The U.N. brokered a ceasefire in 1991 on the understanding that a referendum would be held on the region's fate.
But in the subsequent 24 years no vote has taken place because of disagreements over who would be eligible.
The government of the self-styled Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic(SADR), which seeks independence, has threatened to sue firms that drill, saying such moves cement Moroccan control and dash their hopes of self-determination.