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Court rules that EU-Morocco fishing deal cannot include Western Sahara

Fishing boats [Naoya Wada/Flickr]

The European Union's Court of Justice has ruled that the fishing deal between Morocco and the EU cannot include the waters of the Western Sahara as a non self-governing territory.

"The Court notes, next, that the Fisheries Agreement is applicable to 'waters falling within the sovereignty or jurisdiction' of the Kingdom of Morocco," a statement from the court read. "The Court therefore holds that, taking account of the fact that the territory of Western Sahara does not form part of the territory of the Kingdom of Morocco, the waters adjacent to the territory of Western Sahara are not part of the Moroccan fishing zone referred to in the Fisheries Agreement."

The statement further clarified that any attempt to include the Western Sahara waters in the agreement would be contrary to international law and violates the principle of self-determination.

The Western Sahara Campaign, which advocates for autonomy for the Sahrawi people, welcomed the verdict, as a move to stop the exploitation of the region's resources.

"For over 40 years the international community has stood by and allowed the Moroccan authorities to profit from an illegal and brutal occupation of Western Sahara. They have plundered the fish and phosphates for huge profits whilst over 150,000 Saharawi live in refugee camps," John Gurr, coordinator of the Western Sahara Campaign, said.

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It is time for the international community to enforce international law and allow the Saharawis, the indigenous people of Western Sahara, to decide for themselves who profits from the natural resources of their territory.

The Western Sahara has long been an issue of contention in the region. The Polisario Front independence movement and Morocco fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991 until an UN-brokered ceasefire. Morocco considers the former Spanish colony an integral part of its sovereignty and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory. However the Polisario Front insists on holding a UN referendum on independence from Morocco.

Large parts of the Western Sahara are currently controlled by the Moroccan government, known as the Southern Provinces, whereas around 25 per cent of the territory remains under the control of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with limited international recognition.

Earlier this month, SADR Foreign Minister Mohammad Salem Ould Salek announced that the group was ready to take part in direct negotiations with Morocco on the future of the disputed territory. A Polisario delegation met in Germany with the UN envoy on Western Sahara, Horst Koehler, on 25 January with Ould Salek praising the "new phase of discussions aimed at preparing for a new phase of direct negotiation".

Read: Algeria, Morocco reinforce security, military presence on borders

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