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Britain ordered by UN to return control of Chagos Islands to Mauritius

25 May 2019

The United Nations has backed a motion censuring Britain's administration of the Chagos Islands. It paid the pre-independence government of Mauritius, then a self-governing British territory, £3 million for the islands in 1965, which it then folded into an entity called British Indian Ocean Territory.

There were just five votes against - including the UK, the United States and Hungary.

116 countries voted in favour of the motion, six voted against and 56 others abstained. It was reported that fifty states abstained, these included Germany and France.

Mauritius claims sovereignty over the islands.

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Reuters said that the United Nations resolution adopted yesterday backs a non-binding advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, which found Britain had acted unlawfully in the decolonisation process and should relinquish control. The incident is a result of UN's high court advice to the United Kingdom, that it should leave the islands "as rapidly as possible". Furthermore FCO also stated that it did not recognize Mauritius' claim to sovereignty.

"It is therefore hard to understand the UK's position, unless it is one whereby Mauritius is not considered to be a trusted partner - a position which is deeply offensive to Mauritius, and to every member of the African continent", he told the General Assembly.

"India voted in support of the resolution, with its Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin telling the 193-member that as part of New Delhi's longstanding support to all peoples striving for decolonisation, India has consistently supported Mauritius in its quest for the restoration of sovereignty" over the Chagos Archipelago.

United States planes have been sent from the base to bomb Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island, was of major strategic importance during the Cold War.

The resolution on Wednesday, which received 116 votes in favor, demands that Britain withdraw its colonial administration, thus enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory "as rapidly as possible".

Commenting in the aftermath of the vote, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that his country is "extremely disappointed" by the UK Government's position, commented: "The advisory opinion is clear and unambiguous". The UK colonised the group of Islands in the 1960s and 70s and retains control to this day. The entire Chagossian population was forcibly removed from the territory between 1967 and 1973, and prevented from returning.

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said the Diego Garcia military base "plays a vital role in keeping allies and friends - including Mauritius - in the region and beyond safe and secure". In 2016, the U.S. lease was extended to 2036.

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Britain ordered by UN to return control of Chagos Islands to Mauritius