The UK has been condemned for ignoring a United Nations deadline to hand the Chagos Islands back to Mauritius.
A six-month deadline to return control of the overseas territory came and looked set to pass on Friday, with the UK refusing to recognise Mauritius’s claim of sovereignty over the islands. The UN overwhelmingly voted in May to set the six-month deadline for UK withdrawal from the Indian Ocean archipelago in a major diplomatic blow.
The islands have been at the centre of a decades-long dispute over Britain’s decision to separate them from Mauritius in 1965 and set up a joint military base with the US on Diego Garcia, the largest of the isles.
Olivier Bancoult, from The Chagos Refugee Group, led a peaceful protest of few dozen islanders outside the British High Commission on Mauritius on Friday, where many of the displaced Chagossians live after being barred from their homelands.
"This peaceful demonstration is intended to show the discontent of the Chagossians and Mauritians at Britain’s refusal to respect the United Nations resolution… giving her six months to end the illegal occupation of Chagos," Bancoult said.
Protestors waved flags and held up placards.
The UK evicted Chagossians from the archipelago between 1967 and 1973 so the US could erect a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.
That move, and the islands’ incorporation into the British Indian Ocean Territory, was ruled "unlawful" by judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. While not legally binding, the UN vote heaped diplomatic pressure on Britain to return the territory with the General Assembly backing the resolution 116 votes to six.
The UK purchased the archipelago from Mauritius for £3 million in 1965, when it was still a British colony.
In 2016, Britain renewed a lease agreement with the United States for the use of Diego Garcia until 2036.
Diego Garcia played a strategic role during the Cold War, and then as an airbase, including during the war in Afghanistan.
Mauritius, which gained independence from Britain in 1968, maintains the islands are its own.
Asked for a comment, the Foreign Office pointed to a recent ministerial statement saying: "The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. "Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed to "end colonial rule" if he wins the December 12 election and accused the Conservatives of "shamefully" considering themselves above international law.
"It’s clear that in refusing to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius and defying the UN General Assembly and International Court of Justice, this Conservative government shamefully considers itself to be above international law," the Labour leader said.
"A Labour government will end colonial rule.
"We immediately will enact our manifesto promise to allow the people of the Chagos Islands and their descendants the right to return to the lands from which they should never have been removed."
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