[Following his divorce from a 31-year marriage, now-single Andrew Forrest, the 2nd richest Australian, was photographed in the streets of Paris kissing a woman reported to be Moroccan Energy Minister Leila Benali. Mr. Forrest, a.k.a. ‘Twiggy,’ is best known as the former CEO (and current non-executive chairman) of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and has interests in the mining and cattle industries. His business dealings in Morocco have come under scrutiny after the public kiss. POLISARIO has warned Mr. Forrest to keep his dealings out of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

The following news item has been edited with mark-up for accuracy.]

‘Stay clear’: Rebel group’s warning to Twiggy

Australian mining billionaire Twiggy Forrest has been issued a severe warning over a multibillion-dollar scheme.

A North African separatist group [national liberation organization] waging a guerrilla war against the Moroccan government has warned Australian mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest to “stay clear” of its disputed [occupied] territory.

It is asking him to reconsider a multibillion-dollar green energy scheme it claims will help fund ongoing repression and human rights abuses against the native population.

The Polisario Front, a rebel nationalist liberation movement of the Sahrawi people, has been fighting for independence for the Western Sahara region since 1975, when it was given up as a Spanish colony and subsequently claimed by Morocco to its north and Mauritania to its south.

Covering an area the size of Great Britain in northwest Africa with a long stretch of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, Western Sahara is rich in minerals and natural resources, particularly fisheries, sitting just opposite the Canary Islands.

Tarfaya, a small fishing town in southwestern Morocco only 35 kilometres from the disputed border with Western Sahara, is the intended site of a new green ammonia production centre by OCP Group, the Moroccan state-owned phosphate miner and fertiliser producer which in April announced a major joint venture with Perth-based Fortescue.

Kamal Fadel, the Australian spokesman for the Polisario Front, said there were grave concerns about Fortescue’s “involvement with a regime that has a bad human rights record, violation of international law and occupation of territory”.

“This investment … in Morocco gives it the funds to buy arms, to feed the army that is occupying Western Sahara,” Mr Fadel told news.com.au.

“And it also encourages Morocco not to resolve this issue and emboldens its decision not to co-operate with the UN, its defiance of the international community. This creates concerns for us — we understand Fortescue does not go and invest in other regions where there is a war or invasion or aggression, but in this case, they are doing that. We want them to stay clear of Western Sahara, not to get involved.”

Fortescue has insisted none of its plans touch the disputed territory.

But Mr Fadel said it was not that simple, noting that OCP Group’s Bou Craa mine, which is located in Western Sahara, contributes around 10 per cent of its total phosphate extraction volume and 20 per cent of its total export phosphate.

“It’s a big component,” Mr Fadel said.

“We know the joint venture between Fortescue and OCP involves enhancing the green fertiliser production, so there is a connection there. We just think the whole involvement of this company in Morocco at this time undermines the UN process and is likely to extend the suffering of our people who have suffered for about 50 years of an invasion and occupation of their homeland.”

A Fortescue spokesman on Friday reiterated that “none of Fortescue’s proposed projects in Morocco are in the disputed region.”

“The OCP Fortescue joint venture is progressing expeditiously,” he said.

The global fertiliser supply shock following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sparked a major boom for the North African phosphate superpower — which sits on about 70 per cent of global reserves — bringing in record revenue and lending the kingdom increased international leverage to push its claim over Western Sahara.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) notes that “given the status of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory, there are international law considerations with importing natural resources sourced from Western Sahara.”

“We recommend that companies seek legal advice before importing such material,” DFAT says.

‘Brutal occupation’

The United Nations and the International Court of Justice have recognised the right of self-determination for the roughly one million Sahrawi people.

Mauritania abandoned its claim in 1979 in the face of relentless attacks by Polisario fighters, but Morocco continued to claim sovereignty over the territory, which it considers an integral part of its kingdom.

Morocco has long rejected demands to hold a referendum on Sahrawi independence.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is considered a partially recognised state, recognised by several dozen mainly African and Arab UN members, notably Iran and neighbouring Algeria, which hosts a number of Sahrawi refugee camps and has long supported the Polisario cause.

A UN-backed ceasefire was signed in 1991, but fighting between the two groups broke out again in 2020, and the Polisario Front has this year launched attacks on Moroccan troops in the region.

Human rights groups have accused Morocco of serious abuses in its brutal crackdown on the Sahrawi, including torture and forced confessions.

In one recent incident, Moroccan police “arbitrarily detained” a man “after he appeared in a video of a Spanish tourist saying that he was a proud Sahrawi and favoured the self-determination of his people,” according to Amnesty International.

“The officers tortured and otherwise ill-treated him by cuffing and hooding him, slapping his face, spitting on him, and threatening to rape him and kill him using acid,” the group said in its 2023 report.

Human Rights Watch says Moroccan authorities “systematically prevent gatherings supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights NGOs, including by blocking their legal registration, and on occasion beat activists and journalists in their custody and on the streets, or raid their houses and destroy or confiscate their belongings.”

“Human Rights Watch documented some of these beatings and raids, including of the house of independence activist Hassana Duihi,” the group’s 2021 report said.

“In 2021, 19 Sahrawi men remained in prison after they were convicted in unfair trials in 2013 and 2017 for the killing of 11 security force members, during clashes that erupted after authorities forcibly dismantled a large protest encampment in Gdeim Izik, Western Sahara, in 2010. Both courts relied almost entirely on their confessions to the police to convict them, without seriously investigating claims that the defendants had signed their confessions under torture.”

Mr Fadel said it had been a “very brutal occupation.”

“Kidnapping people, imprisoning them, torturing them, most of them end up dying in prison after decades,” he said.

“There is no basic respect of human rights in Western Sahara. The people have suffered a lot and are still suffering. The regime in Morocco is an autocratic, tyrannical regime, it is an absolute monarchy where the King rules and he’s the richest person in Morocco because he controls all the business there, all the major companies.”

Morocco, for its part, has accused Iran and its Lebanese Shi’ite proxy, Hezbollah, of training and arming the Polisario Front — a claim denied by Iran — and has also accused Polisario of working with Sunni terror group al-Qaeda.

Mr Fadel maintains this is “baseless Moroccan propaganda”.

The Sahrawi people are largely Sunni Muslim.

“During the Cold War they were saying we were communists, when that was not the fashion anymore they said we are linked to al-Qaeda, and when that was not working now they link us to Shi’a Iran and Hezbollah,” Mr Fadel said.

“When Morocco was asked to provide evidence of this link they couldn’t provide anything. It’s just to create fear amongst the international community.”

Original article

Photo: Andrew Forrest with reported to be Moroccan Energy Minister Leila Benali, sharing a kiss. Source: Daily Mail.

• Access to natural resources
• Armed / ethnic conflict
• Destruction of habitat
• Dispossession
• Globalization, negative impacts
• Indigenous peoples
• People under occupation
• Population transfers