The British government criticized Mauritius’ ecological visit to the disputed Chagos Islands, which are claimed by Port Louis and administered by London.
On Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, announced that a vessel left for the 58-island archipelago Tuesday to conduct a “scientific study” of a partly submerged reef.
He added that the ecological expedition would provide Mauritius with an opportunity to exercise its sovereignty over the islands.
Chagos Islands have been at the centre of decades-old disputes. After the United Kingdom separated them from Mauritius in 1965, the United States leased the islands to set up its Diego Garcia military base, deporting the population in force and dumping them in Mauritius and Seychelles.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice in The Hague unanimously ruled in favour of giving the islands to Mauritius, and the United Nations General Assembly formally approved the resolution.
Despite growing international condemnation, London continues to ignore the ruling. It claims that Diego Garcia is essential to its strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
“This is clearly a political statement by the Mauritian government with regards to its claims on the Chagos and nothing to do with conservation,” said Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, which houses the largest Chagossian population in the UK. “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.”
Chagossian Voices, the largest Chagossian community group in the UK, also expressed fury at the voyage. Chagossians in Mauritius face discrimination, struggle to find work, and are in favor of self-sovereignty over the islands.
“This is an obscenely expensive vanity expedition carried out without proper consultation with the Chagossian community,” read a statement from Chagossian Voices. “Many Chagossians are appalled that such a huge sum of money can be spent at a time of economic crisis and when Chagossians remain on the margins of Mauritian society. Chagossians are filled with dread at the prospect of the islands being handed to Mauritius.”
According to a spokesperson for Chagossian Voices, the vessel chosen, a luxury 72-metre motor yacht, was rented for over £700,000.
The two-week trip to the Chagos Islands will include over 20 Mauritian officials, scientists, journalists and lawyers. On board are some Chagossian fishermen who will visit islands outside the archipelago where they used to fish.
According to Philippe Sands, an international lawyer who served as counsel for Mauritius on the Chagos Islands, the UK has approved the visit after Port Louis had threatened to sue London in an international court if it was rejected.
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