The Dublin-based company Island Oil & Gas has announced an onshore oil exploration deal in “occupied” Western Sahara that it has signed with the Moroccan Government. The deal is hugely controversial as NGOs argue that it could break international law.

Protests against the “illegal deal” are already being formulated and the Irish company now risks being targeted by a divestment campaign that has already succeeded in making all foreign oil companies withdraw from Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.

Island Oil’s deal gives it exclusive reconnaissance rights for the onshore “Zag Basin” in northern Western Sahara. The licence is valid for a period of 12 months until December 2007, and covers an area of 21,807 square kilometers.

The deal has provoked severe criticism from the international network, Western Sahara Resource Watch, which argues that “Morocco is an illegal occupying power in Western Sahara. This has been established by The International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1975”, and “numerous resolutions of The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.”

“The occupation of Western Sahara has resulted in enormous suffering and deprivation of the Saharawi people, the rightful owners of the land and the natural resources of Western Sahara … Island Oil & Gas is collaborating with an illegal occupier, thus increasing the risk of further armed conflict, destabilisation and suffering in the entire region. This increased tension actively undermines the hard work of the United Nations to solve the conflict in Western Sahara over the last fifteen years.

“Island’s cooperation with the Moroccan government in the occupied area clearly lends legitimacy to the illegal Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. This is made even clearer by Island’s reference to the exploration area as ‘Moroccan’ despite the fact that no country has recognised the territory as part of Morocco”.