Chagos Islands dispute: United Nations backs end to UK control

The International Court of Justice in the Hague the Netherlands

The International Court of Justice in the Hague the Netherlands

In a stinging defeat for Britain, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly demanded Wednesday that London cede to Mauritius the British-ruled Chagos Islands, home to an important military base.

The remote archipelago in the Indian Ocean has been the source of tension for decades, after Britain separated it from Mauritius in 1965 and set up a military base along with the United States on the largest of the Chagos Islands, Diego Garcia.

A total of 116 countries voted for the measure.

The vote comes three months after the International Court of Justice said Britain should relinquish sovereignty of the islands "as rapidly as possible". "It is a bilateral sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Mauritius".

Diego Garcia became an important USA base during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, acting as a launch pad for long-range bombers.

After Britain rejected that ruling, Mauritius turned to the United Nations.

Both London and Washington oppose the United Nations decision, which comes in support of an earlier ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February 2019.

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The islands are now used by the United Kingdom for military purposes and one of them, Diego Garcia, is leased to the U.S. until 2036.

Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the archipelago in the 1960s and '70s to make way for a huge U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, which played a key strategic role in the Cold War before being used as a staging ground for United States bombing campaigns against Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s. The facility was used as a Central Intelligence Agency interrogation centre after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Richard Gowan, UN director for the International Crisis Group, described the vote as "an embarrassing moment for the UK" as Britain seeks to show that it remains an influential global player post-Brexit.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Juqnauth said his country was prepared to enter into an agreement with United States or Britain or both, to be allowed unhindered operation of the base.

The US, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives all voted with the United Kingdom against the resolution.

Fifteen countries did not vote and 56 abstained - including the vast majority of Europe, with the exception of Spain, which voted in favor of Mauritius.

The U.N. General Assembly had requested the court's opinion in a resolution adopted in June 2017 with 94 votes in favour, 15 against and 65 abstentions.

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