Chagos Islanders fear poverty as UK holds talks with Mauritius

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A lobbyist from a group arguing on behalf of Chagos Islanders has said she fears “poverty” and “discrimination” could follow on from talks between the United Kingdom and Mauritius. Mauritius, which was a British colony until it obtained independence in 1968, claims the islands as its own territory. However, the Chagos Islands are administered by Britain and the UK has a joint military base with the US on Diego Garcia.

Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth used a new year’s address to reveal that talks between Port Louis and London were underway.

He said: “The latest developments on the Chagos issue are very encouraging. Negotiations between Mauritius and Britain have begun.”

However, due to previous events, Chagos Islanders continue to distrust Mauritius and Britain deeply.

Many responded to the talks by voicing concerns at the lack of consultation with them over the potential outcomes.

A similar point of contention was recently raised by the NGO Human Rights Watch, according to the Guardian.

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Rosy Leveque, 28, from the Chagos Islanders lobby group, said: “I feel that history is repeating itself – the same two states who treated my family like cargo are once again negotiating our community’s future without the involvement of the actual community itself.

“The Lancaster Agreement of 1965, where Mauritius and the UK signed a document to exile an entire population into a life of poverty and discrimination both in Mauritius and Seychelles – the same thing is happening again.”

She added: “The descendants I’ve spoken to in Mauritius do not support Mauritius sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, especially when you look at what’s happening in Agaléga islands.

“Mauritius has sold the islands to India to be used as an Indian military base and the people of Agaléga are being cast aside, many of them also are of Chagossian descent.

“Chagossians should be given the same respect as the Falkland Islands – a referendum.

“We should be given the choice to decide if we want to be governed by either Mauritius or UK.

“Our right to self-determination is not being respected.”

Despite concern from the Chagos Islanders lobby group, Anglo-Mauritian talks are expected to lead to the return of former inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago after they were forcibly displaced in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, the UK reportedly hopes to maintain continued rights over Diego Garcia.

The islands are said to be a vital strategic asset for the US military.

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A UN court ruled in 2019 rejected the UK’s claim of sovereignty over the Chagos Islands.

Delivering judgment, the president of the International Court of Justice, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said: “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonisation of Mauritius.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in November pledged to reach a settlement with Mauritius.

He also told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that Rishi Sunak’s Government would “ensure that we have conversations with the Chagossian communities”.

Indo-Pacific Minister Anne Marie-Trevelyan, who served under both Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in Cabinet, later claimed: “Although the negotiations are between the UK and Mauritius, we will ensure that we engage with the communities as negotiations progress.”

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