United Nations backs end to UK control of Chagos islands

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The United Nations General Assembly has accepted a declaration demanding that the UK relinquish its control over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, with an overwhelming result of 116 for and only 6 against, with 56 abstentions.

The General Assembly adopted a resolution based on findings by the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Britain must surrender control of the archipelago within six months.

Only six countries including Britain and the USA opposed the vote in the 193-member assembly, while 116 voted in favour and 56 abstained.

A total of 116 countries in the 193-nation assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution presented by African countries that urged Britain to "withdraw its colonial administration" from the Chagos Islands within six months.

Australia, Hungary, Israel and the Maldives voted "no" alongside Britain and the United States.

Commenting in the aftermath of the vote, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said that his country is "extremely disappointed" by the UK Government's position, commented: "The advisory opinion is clear and unambiguous".

In a statement to the BBC, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said Britain did not recognise Mauritius' claim to sovereignty but would stand by an earlier commitment to hand over control of the islands to Mauritius when they were no longer needed for defence purposes.

Following the vote, a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office stressed the security implications of maintaining British control, saying: "The joint UK-US defence facility on the British Indian Ocean Territory helps to keep people in Britain and around the world safe from terrorism, organised crime and piracy".

Although the General Assembly resolution is not legally binding, it does carry some weight in worldwide politics.

She also said the resolution would "set an unwelcome precedent" over sovereignty disputes "that should be of concern to member states".

Chagossians were forcibly removed between 1967 and 1973 to make way for a U.S. military facility on Diego Garcia, the largest island in the group.

After colonisation by France in the 19th Century, the island chain was given to Britain and in 1903 it merged the islands with Mauritius. Between 1967 and 1973, the entire Chagossian population was forcibly removed from the territory.

The people of the islands were forcibly evicted and have always been fighting Britain in legal cases to return.

The islands are now used by the United Kingdom for military purposes and one of them, Diego Garcia, is leased to the USA until 2036.

In 2016, Britain renewed a lease agreement with the United States for the use of Diego Garcia until 2036.

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