Diego Garcia Dispute In Focus As Prime Ministers Of UK, Mauritius Visit India At The Same Time This Week

by Swarajya Staff - Apr 18, 2022 03:28 PM +05:30 IST
Diego Garcia Dispute In Focus As Prime Ministers Of UK, Mauritius Visit India At The Same Time This WeekPravind Jugnauth and Boris Johnson.

With the Diego Garcia conflict escalating, the prime ministers of both the United Kingdom and Mauritius are visiting India this month.

Both the countries are battling over the Chagos archipelago and both claim sovereignty.

Context: The archipelago hosts the US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of around 55 islands that form Chagos.

  • In 1965, the archipelago was separated from Mauritius, then a British colony, and made part of the UK's overseas territory.

  • Later, the UK evicted the entire population of the archipelago and leased Diego Garcia to the United States for its Indian Ocean military base.

So, What Now? The prime ministers of the United Kingdom (UK) and Mauritius will be in New Delhi at the same time this week.

  • While Pravind Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius, will visit India from 17 to 24 April, the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, will be in the country on 21 and 22 April.

  • Interestingly, both leaders will also go to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state Gujarat during their visits.

Chagos and Diego Garcia Islands
Chagos and Diego Garcia Islands

The Dispute Is Intensifying. In the last few years, the International Court of Justice, the maritime law tribunal of the United Nations and the UN General Assembly have sided with Mauritius on the dispute.

  • Emboldened by a string of victories, Mauritius sent a ship carrying Chagos Islanders to the archipelago.

  • This was the first time in 50 years that the Chagossians were allowed to enter.

  • Mauritius also planted its flag on one of the islands of the archipelago during the trip.

What India Wants: India has supported Mauritius on the issue. Mauritius would not have been able to win the battle against the UK in the UN General Assembly last year without India's help.

  • However, given the increasing Chinese footprint in the Indian Ocean, India also wants the US to retain its presence in Diego Garcia.

  • It is believed to have nudged Mauritius to offer to renew the lease of Diego Garcia to the US if it is able to wrest back sovereignty from the UK.

  • Some reports say it has already given the US an offer of a 99-year lease. The US's current lease obtained from the UK is set to expire in 2036.

  • India is building a military base of its own on Mauritus's Agalega island, which is not part of the Chagos Archipelago.

UK's Response To These Developments: The UK denies Mauritius's claim to the Chagos. But when the Mauritian government sent a boat to the Chagos this year, the UK did not try to stop it.

  • However, it reiterated that "no doubt as to our [the UK's] sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, which we have held continuously since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the territory and the UK does not recognise its claim."

The US's Stands On This: The US has recently said that it "unequivocally supports UK sovereignty" over the Chagos islands.

  • Interestingly, it has also stated that the arrangement over Diego Garcia is based on the "uniquely close... partnership between the US and the UK" that "cannot be replicated".

  • Some have seen the latter part of the statement as a rejection of Mauritius's offer to extend the lease of Diego Garcia if it gets sovereignty over the Chagos islands.

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