Africa

Morocco’s OCP Says South African Court Not ‘Competent’ to Rule on Phosphate Shipment

Rabat - Moroccan state-run phosphates group Office chérifien de phosphates (OCP) has slammed a South African court ruling judging the detention of a phosphate shipment in Port Elizabeth “legal.”

The group issued a statement stating the court is not competent to rule in such a matter, adding that the judgment is politically motivated.

“OCP Group is outraged by this decision,” reads the statement. “This decision is in breach of well-established principles under international law.”

On Thursday, a panel of judges in Port Elizabeth court ruled the detention of the shipment carried by NM Cherry Blossom as correct, and stated that a trial will be held to determine ownership of the cargo. The shipment, which had been on its way to New Zealand, has been detained since early May following a motion by Polisario Front opposing the shipment of phosphate from Western Sahara.

Polisario claimed the shipments were “illegal” because the phosphate was extracted from Western Sahara, which it considers its own sovereign territory.

A similar motion was issued in May in Panama, where another shipment was held while heading to Canada. However, earlier in June a court decision dismissed Polisario claims.

The South African court judgement, which stands in stark contrast with the decision by the court in Panama, confirms South Africa’s longtime bias towards Polisario. The move taken by South Africa violates international law as the shipment constitutes no danger to its security and good order or environment. There is also no legal basis that says Morocco cannot exploit phosphate in Western Sahara.

Attempts by Polisario to obstruct the way of Moroccan phosphate shipments highlighted the organization’s frenzied behavior in recent months, since the start of the crisis in the buffer strip of Guerguerat back in August 2016.

While Morocco responded positively to the United Nations’ calls for restraint and pulling out of the buffer zone, Polisario maintained presence until the last minute in late April, prompting criticism from the Security Council members prior to the adoption of Resolution 2351.

The separatist group ultimately yielded to international pressure and pulled out its armed members. However, the attempts to stop Moroccan phosphate cargos indicated a new series of provocations by the separatist organization.

“The Polisario front, its sponsors and proxies have embarked on a path whose only effect is to harm the interests of the local community that they claim to defend,” said OCP’s communiqué.

As the statement noted, the South African court has no jurisdiction to decide on such a political issue which “falls under the purview of the UN Security Council.”

“By instigating this lawsuit just one day after the UN Security Council’s resolution and the Secretary-General's call to resume talks in good faith and without preconditions with the support of the international community, the Polisario Front displays its inclination to undermine the proper conduct of the United Nations Security Council process and hamper the socioeconomic development of the region.”

OCP Group affirmed that its “operations and activities in full compliance with international law and in particular the applicable United Nations framework on exploitation of natural resources.”

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