Publicity stunt or not? Chagossians in Seychelles question Mauritian government's recent expedition
Some Chagossians from Seychelles visited their motherland in 2015 sponsored by the British government. (Alvin Tirant)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Seychelles-based Chagossians have described the recent expedition to the Chagos islands organised by the government of Mauritius as a mere publicity stunt with no real interest in the plight of the displaced islanders.
Pierre Prosper, the leader of the Chagossians living in Seychelles, told SNA that the islanders based in Seychelles and a group from the United Kingdom are not convinced that the Mauritian government's intention is genuine.
Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth had announced the "historic visit" by a research vessel to the disputed Chagos Islands. The trip by the scientific vessel also included a group of displaced islanders currently residing in Mauritius. During the trip, which according to the Mauritian government was for the purpose of a scientific study, however, the Mauritian flag was raised on the islands.
"This is just a public display to show that Mauritius still has a claim on Chagos," said Prosper. According to Prosper "the local community and that of the United Kingdom do not trust the intention of the Mauritian government if ever the islands are transferred back."
Prosper explained that in 2019, he met with his counterpart in Mauritius – Olivier Bancoult – and with his lawyers, to discuss and agree on conditions for when Mauritius regains the sovereignty of the Chagos islands. The conditions were for full autonomy on the Chagos islands by the Chagossians, where "we control the territory, have our own governing legal and political structure, while recognising Mauritius as the colonial power, under the UNGA resolution," explained Prosper.
These conditions were drafted with the support of the lawyers working with the displaced community. Prosper said that this was later submitted back to Bancoult for his signature, with plans to meet the Mauritius government. According to Prosper, Bancoult never responded.
"This is just a pretext and it is only the committee of the Chagossians based in Mauritius that is behind them," said Prosper. "We are also sure that there are many Chagossians in Mauritius that do not trust the Mauritian government," he added, pointing out that the government of Mauritius is showing no interest in the Chagossians but rather looking at its own interest.
"Mauritius should take a firmer position and show that the interest of the islanders should be placed first if ever the islands are returned to them," said Prosper. "They should agree to a Rodrigues-plus structure, our constitution, with political, judicial and economic autonomy. We do not want Chagossians to be diluted as an average Mauritian. We want Chagossians outside of Mauritius to benefit equally on our land. "
Prosper added: "We see Mauritius's policy reflected in what is happening in Agaléga right now." Agaléga is two outer islands of Mauritius located in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 kilometres north of the Mauritius Island.
An article on the Aljazeera website, published in August last year, gave details on the construction of a military base by India on one of the two islands, which is reportedly not being supported by the island's population.
According to Prosper, Mauritius already has its agenda in this respect and is clear on who should invest and who should benefit from the islands. "We want better conditions for the Chagossians, we want to take part in decisions and we want full control of our islands," concluded Prosper.
In the meantime, the Chagossian Committee is in the process of preparing to go to the European Court of Human Rights with its case.
Around 2,000 Chagossians were forcibly evicted from the Chagos archipelago in the central Indian Ocean in 1960 after the UK leased the main island, Diego Garcia, to the United States to use as a military base.
More than 200 were deported to Mahe, the main island of Seychelles – a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean - between 1967 and 1973 when the country was still a British colony.
The islanders enjoyed a small victory – though on paper only – in May 2019. In an overwhelming vote in favour of the rights of Chagossians, the United Nations General Assembly voted 116-6 to condemn Britain's occupation of the Chagos islands, a stinging diplomatic defeat for the UK.