Britain and US seek India’s assistance on Diego Garcia

Published on Jan 19, 2017 10:07 PM IST

Britain and the United States have approached India to leverage its influence with Mauritius on the contentious issue of Diego Garcia, where the US has a major military base, but is caught in claims over Mauritian sovereignty and legal rows over return of former islanders.

Chagos Islander Olivier Bancoult holds up a judgment paper inside the Houses of Parliament in London October 22, 2008, after a court ruling decided the islanders were not allowed to return to their homeland. Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the tropical Chagos archipelago, a British colony, in the 1960s and 1970s so the US military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.(AP FILE)
Chagos Islander Olivier Bancoult holds up a judgment paper inside the Houses of Parliament in London October 22, 2008, after a court ruling decided the islanders were not allowed to return to their homeland. Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the tropical Chagos archipelago, a British colony, in the 1960s and 1970s so the US military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.(AP FILE)
Hindustan Times, London | By

Britain and the United States have approached India to leverage its influence with Mauritius on the contentious issue of Diego Garcia, where the US has a major military base, but is caught in claims over Mauritian sovereignty and legal rows over return of former islanders.

New Delhi’s help was sought by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who is currently on a visit to India, during Wednesday’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, London-based sources told HT.

 The help was sought since it is seen as part of the “same security architecture” with Britain and the US, sending what is considered a “good signal” from New Delhi’s perspective. Continuation of the US base would also be in India’s interests, Modi was told.

 Diego Garcia, one of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean, was leased by Britain to the US for the military base in 1966 for 50 years (two years before Mauritius independence in 1968). Nearly 2,000 islanders were driven out and settled in Mauritius and Seychelles. London administers it as the British Indian Ocean Territory.

The lease expired recently, but has been renewed by London until December 20, 2036, much to the chagrin of Mauritius and groups seeking the return of islanders. London also announced in November last that the islanders will not be allowed to return.

 Mauritius Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth has threatened to take Britain to the International Court of Justice to resolve the dispute over the sovereignty of Chagos islands after securing a vote in the UN General Assembly on the issue.

 Jugnauth has criticised London’s refusal to let the Chagossian community return to the island, which, he said, “always formed and continues to form an integral part of the territory of Mauritius”.

 He said: “In view of the purported unilateral actions of the UK, Mauritius would be fully justified in taking forward the completion of the process of decolonisation, which is now on the agenda of the current session of the UN General Assembly, with a view to putting the matter before the International Court of Justice.”

Britain disagrees with Mauritius’ claim to the Chagos archipelago, but has often undertaken to cede it to Mauritius when it is no longer required defence purposes. In 2010, Britain created a Maritime Protection Area in the Chagos island allegedly to stop return of islanders.

 The foreign office said: “These defence purposes contribute significantly towards global security. Diego Garcia is a joint UK-US facility that is used by many international partners in countering terrorism and countering piracy”.

 “The UK is disappointed that Mauritius is seeking a request by the UN General Assembly to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory. The UK believes this is an inappropriate use of the ICJ mechanism and sets an unwelcome precedent for other bilateral disputes”, it added.

 

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prasun Sonwalkar was Editor (UK & Europe), Hindustan Times. During more than three decades, he held senior positions on the Desk, besides reporting from India’s north-east and other states, including a decade covering politics from New Delhi. He has been reporting from UK and Europe since 1999.

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