UN's top court to hear case on fate of Chagos isles

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The world court said Wednesday it will hold hearings in September in a case brought by the United Nations asking judges to examine the fate of the British-ruled Chagos Islands, home to a military base.

The Indian Ocean archipelago has been at the centre of a decades-long dispute over Britain's decision to separate it from Mauritius in 1965 and set up a major joint military base with the US on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.

In a diplomatic blow to Britain, the UN General Assembly last June adopted a resolution presented by Mauritius and backed by African countries asking the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to offer an opinion on the island chain's fate.

The ICJ will "hold public hearings on the request for advisory opinion" in the case of the "legal consequences of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 from Monday 3 to Thursday 6 September 2018," the tribunal said in a statement.

The African Union and a remarkable number of 22 other countries -- including Britain, Germany and several Asian and Latin American nations -- "have expressed their intention of participating in the oral proceedings", the court added.

Based in The Hague, the court was set up by the United Nations in 1946 to rule in disputes between nations.

The vote at the UN was seen as a test of Britain's ability to rally support at the United Nations from fellow Europeans after it voted to leave the European Union.

But the move towards the ICJ was approved by a vote of 94-15 with 65 abstentions, notably from many European countries including Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

The strategic base of Diego Garcia, which has been leased until 2036, was thrust into the spotlight after it became known that it had been used for CIA interrogations of suspects captured in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York.

Following the four days of hearings, the ICJ will give an advisory opinion at a later date on the British decision to separate the Chagos islands from Mauritius and expel some 1,500 residents in order to set up the base.

Unlike most ICJ rulings, it will be non-binding but it would lend support to a campaign by Mauritius for the return of the Chagos Islands.

Mauritius argues that it was illegal for Britain to break up its territory while the Indian Ocean country was under British colonial rule. Mauritius won independence in 1968.

Britain rejects Mauritius's sovereignty claim over the Chagos Islands but has said it will return the archipelago to Mauritius when the military base is no longer needed, without specifying a possible date.


© 2018 AFP

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