The Diego Issue


Political gamesmanship or opacity or secrecy over such issues as our sovereignty and national security, over the naval/military/surveillance bases on our outer islands would ultimately reflect on the trust of our leaders in democracy

By Jan Arden

Diego Garcia base Page1 . Pic – CNN

There have been few press reports since the rather surprise announcement of the UK wishing to put an end sometime during early 2023 to the Diego Garcia excision and unlawful occupation and concurrent lease to the US naval/military base on the artificial and contrived British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) for defence purposes. We would have to assume that discussions involving the two (or three if the US is involved) capitals and their respective diplomatic teams and competent legal advisors are by necessity hushed but they must have by now progressed somewhat beyond agreeing on a common agenda of several complex issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

With an announced target date of 2023, an memorandum of understanding (MoU) might therefore be expected to define the cadre or framework agreement between Mauritius and the UK, while detailed negotiations of each component constituent of that MOU may have different timescales, mechanisms, negotiating partners and perhaps even “honest brokers”.

Despite its 60-year history of staunch resistance to any change in status quo and its several attempts to derail any process aiming at the complete decolonisation of Mauritius through the retrocession of sovereignty to Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago as per successive international reprimands culminating with the latest UN resolutions, we trust that the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office is bringing good faith to the negotiating table.

After all, whatever the disparity in our economic realities, it is up to the UK to take the strategic perspective, reclaim some of the moral heights it had somewhat cynically abandoned and show the goodwill that friends and allies should be able to count upon, when we both, as other amicable states in the region like France and India, share fundamentally the same geopolitical and economic development concerns over a stable and secure Indian Ocean.

Assurances to that effect and, in particular, the continuation for defence purposes of the US naval base lease agreement on Diego directly with sovereign Mauritius rather than through the illegality of the BIOT contraption has always enjoyed large cross-party support locally and seems to have been on offer by all successive political regimes in Mauritius.

The issue is about restoring our sovereign rights over that archipelago but there are bound to be many questions of some complexity relating to the tragic consequences of the displacement and dumping of the original Chagos islanders, their families and the inter-mingling that would have taken place over the past 60 years. Or the terrible ‘tracasseries’ they had to endure attending various international courts, in particular the International Court of Justice in the Hague under the guidance of human rights legal specialists like Philippe Sands, whose book ‘The Last Colony’ sums up their immense sacrifices and Britain’s shame.

We won’t venture into how the negotiators would approach the complexity of necessary reparations, financial and otherwise, that should be shouldered by the UK with respect to the poignancy of the dramas the descendants of that community settled here, in Seychelles and some even in the UK, had to endure. But the issue, however complex, cannot be skirted.

On a separate front our island-state has over those decades also paid a price for loss of sovereignty, the resources and costs mustered for the unending international legal battles against an obdurate former colonial power and the potential revenues foregone through that illegal lease by the UK to the US being perhaps only part of the story. The release of UK official papers has certainly shed light on the pressure that was exerted on the Mauritian delegation by the colonial masters to accept independence after that illegal excision but much less is known about what Britain stood to gain in that early sixties period from what it clearly knew was a subterfuge to suit its budding “nuclear special relationship” with the US for its national security, partaking in the latter’s nuclear umbrella and a continued albeit diminishing role on the world stage. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 20 January 2023

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