Chagos: Back to square one?
— S. MODELIAR
Who will resettle in the islands? Will it be those who are cosily basking in the comfort of a good life in the United Kingdom?
There are many issues facing Mauritius these days. Strangely enough much focus is placed on these issues as elections loom on the horizon. The impression being created is that those who have been out of power for many years are exerting excessive pressure to rake up those issues and blame the government of the day for failing to find the appropriate solutions to them.
Chagos has been a long and fiercely debated issue for nearly 30 years. The MMM started the aggressive campaigns to get back the Chagos Archipelago but it took a purely political approach and even established a Select Committee in 1982 to study the issue of, not so much how to get back the Chagos, but rather to find out how blame could be laid at the door of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and his ministers who negotiated the independence of Mauritius.
Between 1991 and 1993 the MMM was again in power as also between 2000 and 2005. They could not resolve the Chagos issue with the United Kingdom. But now that they are in the opposition they are fully conversant with the solution of how to get the Chagos back. This has been the sheer hypocritical approach taken by the MMM over the years.
We must not and should not mince words when we talk about the ethnic aspect of the Chagos issue. To reap political capital benefits from the Chagos issue the MMM has over the years whipping up hate against the Labour Party on that issue. The islanders were paraded as the victims of the Labour Party. This approach could only have fanned further the ethnic dilemma in which Mauritius found itself after the racial riots of 1968. The MMM started that approach in the early seventies when it was fighting hard to win over the Creoles who were led to believe that they had been orphaned when the PMSD of Gaetan Duval joined the Labour Party of SSR. That was the coalition government that saw the establishment of the tourist industry and the Economic Free Zone, policies vehemently criticised by the MMM.
This issue of ethnicity is important. Soon there may be an end to the occupation of the Chagos in 2016 when the lease between the United Kingdom expires and the US dismantles the military base there. The original habitants of the Chagos want to resettle there. This may be legitimate. But there is more. Many of those who were complaining of having been uprooted by the British in a most inhumane way have sworn allegiance to that very power that they accused for all the miseries meted to them. Many are British passport holders. Now the guilt has shifted from the British to Mauritius. The wretched inhabitants of the Chagos are now British; they should of course because of the allegiance they owe to the British Crown on account of their newly acquired British passports, stop blaming Great Britain. If the islands are given back to Mauritius the issue of the inhabitants settling back there will certainly arise.
Who will resettle in the islands? Will it be those who are cosily basking in the comfort of a good life in the United Kingdom? As Anil Gayan pertinently points out (l’express, 27 Jan 10): “Maybe Olivier Bancoult, holder of a British passport, will be on board the Vigilant in order to plant a flag after landing on Diego Garcia. But which flag will that be? I need to ask him.”
One gentleman, Allen Vincatassin, who is the allegedly the head of the Diego Garcia Society in Great Britain that groups 2000 islanders and who champions the rights of the islanders in the United Kingdom, stated in an article written by Alex Morrison in The Guardian on 25 January 2010: “We are British Indian Ocean Territory citizens, which we are proud to be. We believe we are part of this country. In a normal situation the people would come first but it seems the State of Mauritius comes before the rights of our people.”
That gentleman makes no apology for being critical of Mauritius when he stated also: “We were second-class citizens in Mauritius and if they govern the islands, we will be second-class citizens in our own land.” The title of that article signed is very revealing and it reads: ‘After deporting thousands of islanders, Britain threatens to ignore their wishes again by ceding the territories to Mauritius’. Are these wishes legitimate under international law?
It would seem now that the issue facing Great Britain is whether to cede the island back to Mauritius from which it was excised in 1965 or give it back to the islanders as claimed by the British Islander Allen Vincatassin. In statements made at the General Assembly by the three Prime Ministers Mauritius has known over the past 40 years, a call has consistently been made for the United Kingdom to return the islands to Mauritius and not to the islanders. The islands were excised in blatant violation of UN Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960. There is also United Nations Resolution 2066 (XX) of 1965 about the illegality of Anglo-American occupation of the Chagos and the necessity for the retrocession of the islands to Mauritius. If the islands are to be resettled they will still be part of Mauritius. If the islands have be independent one day, different issues will arise.
The main area of concern about Chagos now is the creation of a Marine Protected Area around the islands. If the United Kingdom is in the process of ceding back the islands back to Mauritius notwithstanding the independence claims made by Allen Vincatassin, we need to address the issue of sovereignty vigorously.
The situation is well summarized by Mr Abhimanu Kundasamy Mauritius High Commissioner in the Sunday Times (10 Jan 10). “The right of Mauritius to enjoy sovereignty over the archipelago, and the failure of the promoters of the marine project to address this issue meaningfully, are serious matters. There can be no legitimacy to the project without the issue of sovereignty and resettlement being addressed to the satisfaction of the government of Mauritius. The right of Mauritius to enjoy sovereignty over the archipelago, and the failure of the promoters of the marine project to address this issue meaningfully, are serious matters. There can be no legitimacy to the project without the issue of sovereignty and resettlement being addressed to the satisfaction of the Government of Mauritius.”
The whole battle to regain Chagos may be complicated by the fact that islanders of British origin led by Allen Vincatassin and others want the islands ceded to them. This is very amusing. How can the United Kingdom cede the islands to people islanders who are themselves British? This would be ridiculous. The other issue that would arise is whether those who hold a British passport and who presumably also have the Mauritian nationality would be entitled to resettle there and then attempt to unilaterally declare independence and cede the islands back to the British or ask to be part of the British isles on the model of the French overseas territories like Reunion Island. We will back to square one if this happens.