UN asked to block Irish firm's Africa oil drilling
The United Nations has been asked by indigenous Western Saharan leaders to block an Irish-registered oil company drilling on what they say are their lands.
Most of the disputed North African country, about the size of Britain, is currently under the control of Morocco, but the head of the Sahrawi government in exile has written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon requesting the Security Council block the proposed drilling by Dublin-based San Leon Energy.
President Mohamed Abdelaziz of the partially recognised Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, wrote: "An Irish-based company, San Leon Energy… plan to commence drilling in August… to determine if there are commercial quantities of hydrocarbon resources in the area.
"These activities constitute a serious violation of international law and of the permanent sovereignty of the Sahrawi people over their own natural resources."
He continued: "If measures are not taken, then the illegal exploitation of the Territory's resources will further undermine the UN's long-standing efforts to reach a peaceful solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, as required by numerous UN Security Council resolutions.
"Western Sahara is not part of Morocco. It is a Non-Self-Governing Territory under the UN Charter awaiting a process of decolonisation."
Morocco has laid claim to the country since 1979 and refers to it as its 'Southern Province' and thousands of Sahrawi refugees have been based in camps across the border in Algeria for decades.
San Leon Energy's chairman Oisin Fanning told the Irish Independent that the company's practices in the region are fully above board.
He said: "We wish to state strongly that we take our obligations under international law, and principles of ethical commercial conduct, seriously.
"San Leon refutes any implication that the company is somehow acting as a rogue actor. We believe the stridency of our critics comes from their knowledge that their position is not shared by the local community."
He continued: "We are not the first western company to operate in the Southern Provinces (of Morocco) under the United Nations process. San Leon is proud to act in unison with other major oil and gas companies in the region.
"The company has the long-term interest of Morocco in mind, and we are fortunate to be working in a country known for toleration and moderation. Morocco is an anchor of stability in a difficult and troubling region of the world."
However Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), a human rights non-governmental organisation run by Irish lawyers, plans to take a legal action against the London AIM-listed company in the coming months.
The NGO intend to bring a complaint against San Leon Energy before the Irish National Contact Point of the OECD.
In 2012 President Abdelaziz visited Ireland and was received by President Higgins. He also held discussions with then Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.