Mauritius, France sign deal on Indian Ocean island

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Mauritius and France on Monday signed a framework agreement for the economic and environmental joint management of Tromelin, a tiny Indian Ocean island owned by France but claimed by Mauritius.

"This agreement is the result of a consensual process," French Cooperation and Francophonie Minister Alain Joyandet said after signing the agreement in the Mauritian capital Port-Louis.

"The framework agreement comes with three technical conventions on fishing, environmental protection and archeological research which define the basis of a fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation," he said.

Tromelin is part of France's remaining "confetti of empire", a tiny coral island located north of Mauritius and east of Madagascar, currently administered as part of Paris' Southern and Antarctic Lands.

It is around a mile long and less than half a mile wide and its population consists of a handful of French gendarmes and scientists based in the island's meteorological station.

Mauritius has long claimed sovereignty over the island and former French president Jacques Chirac first floated the idea of joint management in 1999.

While stressing that his country was not waiving its claim over Tromelin, Mauritian Foreign Minister Arvin Boolell hailed Monday's agreement.

"This signing is a tribute to the brotherly nature of the ties uniting France and Mauritius, as well as a shared desire to develop Tromelin," Boolell added.

The foreign minister said the agreement should "serve as an example for Britain", with which Mauritius is engaged in a bitter dispute over the sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago.

Britain earlier this approved the creation of a huge marine reserve around the Chagos, a territory from which 2,000 people were forcibly evicted in the sixties to make way for a key US military base.

Mauritius argues that the creation of the marine park is a way of sealing Britain's sovereignty on the archipelago and definitively preventing the return of its original inhabitants.

Joyandet also suggested Monday's agreement "was an example for others".

© 2010 AFP

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