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Monday, March 27, 2023

Chagos Islanders Demand Say as UK-Mauritius Sovereignty Talks Begin

Three years before Mauritius's separation from the UK, London cut off access to the Chagos Islands

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MAURITIUS: The descendants of the residents of the Chagos Islands have claimed that their opinions are being ignored as the prime minister of Mauritius announced the start of negotiations with Britain over the region’s sovereignty.

Pravind Jugnauth has governed the Mauritian administration since 2017. In his first address of the new year, he disclosed that negotiations with London over the contentious Indian Ocean archipelago were ongoing.

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“The latest developments on the Chagos issue are very encouraging,” he continued, “Negotiations between Mauritius and Britain have begun”.

Although managed by Britain, which has a combined military facility with the US on one of the islands, Diego Garcia, Mauritius, a British colony until its independence in 1968, claims the isolated islands as its property.

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The former residents of the Chagos archipelago, who the British government forcibly uprooted in the 1960s and 1970s, are anticipated to return due to the talks.

However, it is anticipated that the UK will continue to push for ownership of Diego Garcia, a crucial strategic asset for the US military.

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In response to the talks, descendants of the expelled islanders expressed concerns about the lack of consultation with them over the potential outcomes, a point of contention that the NGO Human Rights Watch has recently raised. There is still a great deal of mistrust between Mauritius and Britain among these descendants.

The same two states that treated my family like cargo are once again negotiating our community’s future without the actual people’s participation, according to Rosy Leveque, 28, of the Chagos Islanders lobby group.

“The Lancaster Agreement of 1965, where Mauritius and the UK signed a document to exile an entire population into a life of poverty and discrimination both in Mauritius and Seychelles – the same thing is happening again.”

Three years before Mauritius’s separation from the UK, London cut off access to the Chagos Islands so it could lease Diego Garcia to the US for military purposes.

Following the forcible deportation of 2,000 Chagossian citizens, who then fought a long legal battle to be allowed to return, the international court of justice ruled in 2019 that the British government’s ongoing occupation of the islands was unconstitutional.

In November, James Cleverley, the foreign secretary, declared in a written ministerial statement that the UK intended to establish the islands’ status with Mauritius early next year.

Later that month, Cleverley assured the Commons foreign affairs committee in answer to a query from Conservative MP Henry Smith that the government would “ensure that we have conversations with the Chagossian communities.”

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