| CAPE TOWN
CAPE TOWN May 4 A South African court will hear
a claim on May 18 involving a seized Moroccan ship that the
Polisario movement in Western Sahara complained was carrying
phosphate taken illegally from the disputed territory.
The hearing, announced by a lawyer for the movement on
Thursday, should test Polisario's use of a European court ruling
last year that said Western Sahara should not be considered part
of Morocco in European Union and Moroccan deals.
The Marshall Island-flagged NM Cherry Blossom, seized by
maritime court order in Port Elizabeth on South Africa's east
coast since Monday, was carrying 50,000 tonnes of phosphate to
New Zealand from Laayoune in the Moroccan-controlled part of the
disputed territory for Morocco's OCP phosphate export company.
Western Sahara has been disputed since war broke out in 1975
between Morocco and the Polisario movement fighting for the
Sahrawi people's independence there. A 1991 ceasefire split the
region into separate parts controlled by Morocco and Polisario.
"On the 18 May we will be seeking a final order saying that
the cargo will remain interdicted from leaving the jurisdiction
of the court until such time as my client's court case for the
return of the property is heard," said Andre Bowley, the
Polisario movement's lawyer, in Cape Town.
The temporary order means the NM Cherry Blossom remains at
anchor in the Bay of Algoa under the jurisdiction of Port
OCP has said it expects a quick resolution once the details
of the case are heard. Morocco's government said on Thursday it
did not expect Polisario's legal challenge would succeed.
"There have been failed attempts to undermine Morocco's
territorial integrity in the past and future attempts will fail
again," government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi told
reporters in Rabat.
Bowley told Reuters the temporary court order makes
provision for OCP and five other respondents, including the ship
owners and the New Zealand buyers of the cargo, to put up
financial security in lieu of the phosphate shipment.
"If you want to carry on sailing with the phosphate onboard
the ship, then fine, put up a bank guarantee securing the amount
and value of the phosphate, then the ship can depart," he said,
adding the estimated value of the cargo was around $5 million.
Morocco and Polisario have been locked in diplomatic and
legal battles since 1991. U.N. peacekeepers had to step when
tension flared in between Moroccan forces and Polisario brigades
in the buffer zone near the Mauritania border.
In January, Morocco rejoined the African Union regional
body, where Polisario's self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic
Republic (SADR) is also a member. South Africa along with
Algeria have been key supporters of the SADR.
(Additional reporting by Samia Errazzouki in Rabat; Editing by
Patrick Markey and Tom Heneghan)