Mauritius challenges British marine park in court

21st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Mauritius has filed a protest with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea over Britain's creation of a marine park around the Chagos islands, the Indian Ocean state's prime minister said Tuesday.

Navinchandra Ramgoolam argues that Britain's environmental project is in fact designed to prevent the return of the refugees it evicted decades ago to turn the islands into a military base.

"The marine reserve was created in violation of the 1982 (United Nations) Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which both Mauritius and the United Kingdom are signatories and which is incompatible with Chagossians' rights," Ramgoolam said.

The statement of claim was filed with the Hamburg-based tribunal on Monday and a copy handed to British Foreign Minister William Hague.

In the claim, a copy of which was seen by AFP, Mauritius argues that Britain is not qualified to set up a marine reserve.

"Only the Republic of Mauritius can declare declare an exclusive economic zone, in line with clause 5 of the 1982 convention" on the law of the sea, Ramgoolam told reporters in the the capital Port-Louis.

Ramgoolam said the statement explains how Britain detached the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius, from where it was administered, just a few years before the 1968 independence.

Mauritius, where some 2,000 Chagossians were resettled after their eviction in the 1960s and 1970s, still claims sovereignty over the archipelago.

The group of islands is also known as the British Indian Ocean Archipelago.

In April, Britain approved the creation of the world's largest marine reserve around the Chagos islands, in a move that angered Mauritius.

"By creating the protected marine area, Great Britain did not take into account Mauritius' rights and those of the Chagossians it shamefully evicted from Chagos," Ramgoolam said.

He claimed that London never tried to strike an agreement with Mauritius or any relevant regional body over the project.

"We know the real reason for the marine reserve: preventing Chagossians from returning to Chagos," the premier added.

A US diplomatic cable recently revealed by WikiLeaks purportedly quotes a British official as saying the marine park would ensure no "Man Fridays" could settle on the Chagos islands.

The main island, Diego Garcia, is now populated by an estimated 1,700 US military personnel, 1,500 civilian contractors and around 50 British personnel.

© 2010 AFP

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