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Protesters blocked trucks from entering a Dunedin fertiliser depot this morning, saying the chief executive had ‘‘blood on their hands’’.
About 15 people from Extinction Rebellion Otepoti and Environmental Justice Otepoti gathered at the entry of Ballance Agri-Nutrients about 9am as a part of a nationwide protest to stop Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown from purchasing phosphate from disputed territory Western Sahara.
But Ballance chief executive officer Mark Wynne says it complies with the United Nations framework and with its own legal and ethical criteria.
Independence movement Polisario wants Western Sahara's independence from Morocco, which has held the vast desert region since Spain quit in 1975 and regards it as an integral part of its own land.
Blessed with phosphate deposits and rich fishing waters, Western Sahara also provides the only Moroccan land route to the rest of Africa except through Algeria, whose borders with Morocco have been closed for decades.
A spokesman for the Dunedin protest, Jack Brazil, said they were there to stop business as usual, because Ballance's business as usual was funding war.
‘‘We are preventing the stolen blood phosphate from being picked up and being distributed along the whenua as an act of solidarity,’’ he said.
After a nearly three-decade-old ceasefire, Moroccan troops on Friday launched an operation in the disputed area.
Tensions have been growing in recent weeks, with pro-Polisario protesters, helped by armed fighters, blocking the main road linking Western Sahara to neighbouring Mauritania. Morocco said on Friday it was starting an operation to clear the road in the Guerguerat area, located in a United Nations-monitored buffer zone where any armed activity breaches the 1991 truce.
‘‘We’ve had friends in Western Sahara send us pictures, documenting the brutality and violence they are enduring," Mr Brazil said.
The exploitation of Western Sahara’s lands had kept more than 170,000 Saharawi people in refugee camps in south-west Algeria for the last 45 years, he said.
In 2018, the High Court of South Africa seized a shipment of phosphate heading to New Zealand.
Ravensdown and Ballance were two of the last independent companies in the world still purchasing phosphate from Western Sahara, he said.
‘‘They are funding war now... there are people’s lives on the line.’’
Extinction Rebellion Otepoti and Environmental Justice Otepoti wanted the companies to find another source.
‘‘Their financing of this... that is what is keeping the commercial interest in the phosphate by Morocco.’’
Mr Brazil said that meant Mr Wynne and Ravensdown CEO Greg Campbell had "blood on their hands".
But Mr Wynne said it was conscious of the different perspectives around Western Sahara, and had taken lead from the United Nations (UN).
‘‘The UN has a framework for managing trade in areas classified as non-self-governing.’’
Western Sahara was a non-self-governing territory and subject of a complex dispute that had been going for over 40 years, he said.
Its management team and directors visited the Western Sahara regularly to evaluate compliance with both the UN framework and with its own legal and ethical criteria.
The phosphate rock Ballance sourced from Western Sahara made up about 70% of its rock supply and was used to manufacture superphosphate.
‘‘Superphosphate fertiliser is required by New Zealand farmers and growers to ensure we produce products we want to consume and that we are proud to sell overseas,’’ he said.
Mr Wynne said Ballance respected free speech and the right of everyone to protest.
‘‘We always make sure protesters are safe and we encourage open and respectful dialogue.’’
A police spokeswoman said officers were called to the protest at 9am and advised protesters they could not block the entrance to Ballance.
‘‘There have been no issues," she said.
- additional reporting by Reuters