the Disillusioned kid: Sovereignty Schmovereignty Redux
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sovereignty Schmovereignty Redux

The court hearing on the Orders in Council which prevent the Chagossians returning to their island homes will probably be drawing to a close over the next few days, but even before it reaches its conclusion the Mauritian government is preparing (link via) to try and recover sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. Recent elections in the country brought in a new government. Some commentators had suggested that the campaign led by former PM Paul Berenger was a mistake which had cost Mauritus dearly in the diplomatic stakes, but the new regime seems to take a different view:
On the contrary, Navin Ramgoolam did not hesitate to remind the United Nations – during the UN summit in September – that Mauritius wanted that the problem be “rapidly solved”. He said that the Chagos were “detached from Mauritius” just before the country gained its independence in violation of the UN 1514 declaration and the 2066 declaration of the organisation’s general assembly. The Chagos are now under British jurisdiction and there is a lease for Diego Garcia between the British and the Americans who use the island as a military base.
The really interesting bit, however, emerged after Ramgoolam met with Tony Blair. (Which compares well with Berenger's visit to the UK in 2004 when he was refused meetings with both Blair or Jack Straw.) As you might expect given the foregoing, the issue did come up:
[Ramgoolam] insisted that Mauritius and Great Britain have always had friendly relations that must be used to reach a compromise on this delicate issue. As he was answering the Private Notice Question (PNQ) of the opposition leader, Paul Bérenger, Navin Ramgoolam revealed in Parliament last Friday that Mauritius had proposed that a treaty be signed for the use of Diego Garcia as a military base.

He made it clear that he did not want the Americans to leave the military base. What Mauritius wants is to be given its sovereignty back. If the country obtains this, then the government would conclude an agreement with the Americans so that they can go on using the island. The government is fully aware that Americans need the base and will do nothing to prevent them from staying there.

Although the British government has not accepted the proposal yet, Navin Ramgoolam believes it is a good sign that the British PM has agreed to consider it. Navin Ramgoolam looks quite hopeful : "Both Prime Minister Blair and myself agreed on the need for discussions on the whole issue of the Chagos archipelago to be resumed."
Berenger responded, with some justification, that the real problem lay with Washington who he had previously tried to open talks with. The opposition leader seems generally more pessimistic about the prospects, pointing out, "We have seen what the British did over the sovereignty of the Chagos with their Orders in Council." (Maybe he's still pissed at Tony for blowing him off.)

What's striking about this debate is that the Chagossians seem to be irrelevant to it. This shouldn't be surprising. The Mauritian government reject their very existence, insisting that there were no indigenous people and that all those who had gone to live their came from Mauritius. Furthermore, Chagossian leader Olivier Bancoult has argued previously, "All the time that Mauritius has been talking to the British Government, the Mauritius Government never bothered to bring in the islanders or to consult with them. Why should we worry about Mauritius?"

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