US court orders Britain to end control of Chagos Islands, headquarters of US air base

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PARIS – The United Nations highest court on Monday told Britain that it should end its control "as quickly as possible" on an isolated colonial outpost of the Indian Ocean, better known to house a strategic American air base on the island of Diego Garcia.

The judges of the International Court of Justice in The Hague declared at 13: 1 that Britain had acted unlawfully in 1965 by detaching the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius, which was then a British colony, in order to pave the way. way to renting military facilities for rent. United States.

The court heard that negotiations between the United States and Britain over the construction of a base had begun in 1964, a year before the Chagos Islands, including Diego Garcia, broke away from Mauritius and formed a new colony, dubbed the British Indian Ocean Territory.

Representatives of Mauritius, now an independent country, welcomed the recognition of the country's demands.

"We are obviously very happy with this very clear and almost unanimous decision concerning the Chagos Archipelago," Jagdish D. Koonjul, Mauritius's ambassador to the United Nations, said by telephone. "We will now look for other actions at the United Nations."

Once the construction of the US Air Force Base Diego Garcia, the largest of the few uninhabitable islands, began, Britain expelled all unconnected inhabitants. None of the 1,800 islanders who were displaced were allowed to return.

The president of the court, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, of Somalia, said that a majority of judges had concluded that Britain had violated the 1960 United Nations declaration banning the breakup of settlements before the # 39; independence. The separation of the Chagos Islands and Mauritius for the creation of a new colony is therefore an "unlawful act", which was not based on "free and sincere expression of the persons concerned", states the opinion of the court.

During the hearings, the court heard that the leaders of the Mauritian independence movement had signed the separation agreement in 1965 "under duress".

In its written opinion, the court determined that Britain "has an obligation to end its administration as soon as possible".

The text rendered serves only as an advisory opinion and not as a binding decision. The court said it had no role to play in deciding what measures to take to end the British administration and to take into account the rights of deported residents.

The authors of the opinion included judges from various countries, including China and India. Judge Joan E. Donoghue of the United States voted against it alone.

The British Foreign Office, stressing that it was not a binding judgment, said it would look "carefully" at the details.

Because of the opinion of the court, the United Nations General Assembly, which has always been at the forefront of decolonization problems, should be subject to further pressure.

The presence of the US base was not raised during the hearing as a legal issue, but the experts said any fundamental change in the status of the islands would likely require new lease negotiations, which has recently been renewed. for 20 years.

Regarding the presence of the US air base, Koonjul, ambassador, said: "Mauritius has made it clear that his country has no intention of ending the activities of the Americans in Diego Garcia. We fully understand the security needs in this region. "