Britain has agreed to begin negotiations with Mauritius over the future of the Chagos Islands, backing down from its long-standing resistance to doing so after international pressure.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK wants to broker an agreement backed by international law to “resolve all outstanding issues.”
He said Britain and Mauritius have agreed that any outcome will ensure the effective operation of the joint US-UK military base on Diego Garcia.
“The UK and Mauritius have agreed to engage in constructive negotiations, with a view to arriving at an agreement by early next year,” he said in a written ministerial statement.
Chagossians have for decades wanted to return to the islands after more than 1,000 people were forced to leave in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for the military base.
The United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, has ruled that the UK’s administration of the territory is “unlawful” and must end.
Mauritius, which won independence from the UK in 1968, maintains the islands are its own and Chagossians have fought for their return in the British courts.
Mr Cleverly said the UK has agreed to negotiations “on the exercise of sovereignty” of the islands.
The progress follows talks between Liz Truss — during her short period as prime minister — and her Mauritian counterpart Pravind Jugnauth at the UN General Assembly in New York in September.
“Through negotiations, taking into account relevant legal proceedings, it is our intention to secure an agreement on the basis of international law to resolve all outstanding issues, including those relating to the former inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago,” Mr Ceverly wrote.