Chagos Islands: Expert explains history of Diego Garcia
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Staking the claim to the island, Mauritian ambassador to the United Nations, Jagdish Koonjul hoisted the nation’s flag over the atoll of Peros Banhos. According to reports, Mauritian officials accompanied the raising of the flag by singing the national anthem. Justifying the actions in laying claim to the strategic island, Mr Koonjul said: “We are performing the symbolic act of raising the flag as the British have done so many times to establish colonies. “We, however, are reclaiming what has always been our own.”
The islands have long been a contentious issue.
In 1965, Britain separated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.
Following the move, the UK leased the island to the United States, where the Diego Garcia airbase was established.
What followed was an act highly condemned by the global community.
The 2,000 indigenous inhabitants of the island were forced off the island, made to leave their homes, and sent to Mauritius and Seychelles.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands ordered the UK to cede the islands to Mauritius in a unanimous decision.
The legal conclusion was also widely adopted and accepted by the United Nations, on which the UK holds a permanent seat on the Security Council.
In spite of the ruling, the British have ignored the decree, which has resulted in growing international condemnation of the Government.
London argues the island airbase is a vital strategic geographical asset, in particular as tension increases across South East Asia, and the South China Sea.
British officials have recently clashed with Mauritian counterparts over an ecological visit to the islands surroundings, which London states were a political stunt designed to cement international support of Mauritian claims to the island.
Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, described the trip as a “scientific study” of a partly submerged reef.
He said the ecological expedition would be a “concrete step” towards Mauritius “exercising its sovereignty” over the islands.
Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, which houses the largest Chagossian population in the UK, said: “This is clearly a political statement by the Mauritian government with regards to its claims on the Chagos and nothing to do with conservation.”
“Their record on conservation is abysmal.
“Last year, there was a tanker spillage of over 1,000 tonnes of oil off Mauritius and the government was very slow to act.”
Recently, displaced Chagossians have returned to the island in an emotional trip home, organised by the Mauritian Government.
Speaking of the act, Mr Jugnauth said the move was “not a hostile act”, nor was it designed to “embarrass the UK.”
Speaking by telephone to The Observer, the Mauritian PM said: “The UK has acted in violation of human rights and international law when it forcibly removed the Chagossians.
“Uprooting people from their place of birth and where they were living without any warning and putting them on a ship and just leaving them at the quay in Mauritius.
“And preventing them going back … That’s clearly a crime against humanity and it’s extraordinarily serious.”
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A statement from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said: “Successive UK governments have expressed sincere regret about the manner in which Chagossians were removed from BIOT in the late 1960s and early 1970’s,
“We are currently delivering a £40m support package to Chagossians over a 10-year period.”
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Frankie Bontemps, a Chagossian living in the UK claimed: “No Chaggosians were involved in the original handover process in 1965.
“We don’t want a repeat of the future, we want to have our rights and the right to self-determination of the future of the island,
“When the people of Chagos were removed from the island, they were dumped in the suburbs of Port Louis in Mauritius, living in poor conditions.
“Chagossians have always felt like second class citizens, they were often called ‘islanders’ in a derogatory way.”
SHOULD THE PEOPLE OF THE CHAGOS ISLANDS CHOOSE THEIR OWN FATE? DOES BRITAIN HAVE A SAY AFTER HAVING REMOVED THE PEOPLE OF THE ISLAND? SHOULD COMPENSATION BE PAID TO CHAGOSSIANS? HAVE YOUR SAY ON THIS ISSUE BY JOINING THE DEBATE ON OUR COMMENTS SECTION – JUST CLICK HERE – EVERY VOICE MATTERS!
Speaking of the struggle to settle in Mauritius, Mr Bontemps added: “When living in Mauritius, Chagossians struggled to find jobs, when Mauritian employers saw our names, we were discriminated against, and hence why we don’t trust the Mauritian government.”
Mr Bontemps also claimed Mauritius tried to phase out Chagossian identity.
He said: “Mauritius issued local birth certificates to Chagossians born in the country, in an attempt to phase out any remaining identity of the original people.”
Mr Bontemps said there is a split opinion as to who Chagos islanders would back over a territorial claim dispute.
He said: “Many Chaggosians in the UK would side with Britain, we know the fate of Chagos would be worse in Mauritian hands, they only want to lease the military base and sell fishing licences to countries like China etc.”
Asked what needed to be done for a just a lasting solution to the problem, Mr Bontemps said: “In order to allow the Chagossians to have the final say, there needs to be an awareness campaign.
“It’s time to have our voices heard.
“We have tried getting help from the UN, but we had no reply, everyone is focussing on Mauritius.
“People need to know the real story of the people of the Chagos Islands, the people of the Chagos Islands should decide their future, ask Chagossians not Mauritians.”
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