The United Kingdom says it has no plans to hand over the archipelago known as the Chagos Islands to Mauritius, noting that it is “our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)”.
This comes after a six-month deadline set by the United Nations for the UK to “withdraw its colonial administration” of Chagos ended last Friday.
The decision calling for the UK’s withdrawal had been pushed by a majority of UN members who asked Britain to vacate the islands as they were deemed the property of the Mauritian government.
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But the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office says the islands have been the property of Britain since 1814.
The Office’s statement captured that “Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim”.
Mauritius, an independent African archipelagic nation in the Indian Ocean, was first colonised by the Dutch in the 16th century, and then followed by France in 1715.
But in 1814, through the Treaty of Paris, France ceded the Mauritius to Britain.
In 1965, Britain officially redrew the map of the islands in the Indian Ocean, separating Chagos from Mauritius as well as Aldabra, Farquhar and Descroches from Seychelles. These separated islands are what the British call the BIOT.
Britain then expelled the native population of over 2,000 on Chagos’ biggest island, Diego Garcia, and leased the land to the United States.
The US utilised Diego Garcia as testing grounds for bombs that would be used in Iraq and Afghanistan. The CIA also built an interrogation centre on the island.
This is not the first time Britain has been asked by the international community to hand over Chagos.
In February of this year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed a victory to Mauritius, saying 1965’s redrawing of maps was illegal.
This followed a 2017 resolution passed by the UN supporting Mauritius’ claim to the islands. 15 countries, including the UK and the US, voted against the resolution.
So far, the African Union (AU) has added its voice to the calls demanding that Chagos be given to Mauritius. But this seems unlikely, at least, in the short term.
The islands have been leased to the United States until the year 2036.