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Britain agrees to sovereignty talks with Mauritius over Chagos Islands

Mauritius. Photo by PA Photo/Elodie Lagourgue.

Britain has agreed to begin negotiations with Mauritius over the future of the Chagos Islands, backing down on its long-standing resistance to doing so after international pressure.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK wants to broker an agreement backed by international law to “resolve all outstanding issues” over the Indian Ocean archipelago.

He said Britain and Mauritius have agreed that any outcome will ensure the effective operation of the joint US-UK military base on Diego Garcia.

Following a meeting between the then Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, Mr Cleverly said “…the UK and Mauritius have decided to begin negotiations on the exercise of sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)/Chagos Archipelago.”

“Through negotiations, taking into account relevant legal proceedings, it is our intention to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues, including those relating to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago.”

“This will allow the UK and Mauritius, as close Commonwealth partners, to work even more closely together to tackle the regional and global security challenges that face us all.”

“We will seek to strengthen significantly our cooperation on Indian Ocean security, maritime security and marine protection, the conservation of the environment, climate change, respect for human rights, and to tackle illegal migration, illegal fishing, drugs and arms trafficking, as well as bilateral cooperation on a range of other issues.”

“We will work to do this in cooperation with key allies and partners in the region.”

Mr Cleverly said the UK and Mauritius recognise the US’s and India’s interests and will keep them informed of progress.

Chagossians have spent decades fighting to return to the islands after more than 1,000 people were forced to leave in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for the military base.

The United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, in The Hague, has ruled that the UK’s administration of the territory is “unlawful” and must end.

Mauritius, which won independence from the UK in 1968, maintains the islands are its own and Chagossians have fought for their return in the British courts.

The developments were being followed from Gibraltar but the Gibraltar Government – which knew about the statement before it was published – said it had no concerns.

“The Government considers that the United Kingdom's decision is of no effect on Gibraltar, the circumstances of which are entirely different,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“In the case of the Chagos Islands, the population were removed and not returned since 1965.”

“The Islanders have brought several sets of proceedings against the United Kingdom for the right of return and compensation.”

“In the case of Gibraltar the United Kingdom has made a cast iron commitment not to transfer sovereignty against the wishes of the people of Gibraltar and not even to start a process of sovereignty discussions with which the Gibraltarians are not content.”

“The Government of Gibraltar will never consent to any such discussions of sovereignty ever commencing.”

“There are therefore no parallels to draw or be concerned about.”

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