Cyprus Mail

Government tiptoes around Chagos impact on British bases

Education Minister Prodromos Prodromou

The government on Thursday tiptoed around giving a clear answer on whether it would utilise a United Nations General Assembly decision asking Britain to give up control over the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, which are used as an airbase.

The UN resolution adopted on Wednesday backs a non-binding advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February, which found Britain had acted unlawfully in the decolonisation process and should relinquish control.

That decision was seen as a test of the legitimacy of deals struck between great powers and small states at the end of the colonial era, which could also include Cyprus.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said “the president and the foreign minister were clear after the international court’s decision – which of course has its gravity and value – it was not the Republic’s option at this stage to raise such an issue.”

Prodromou added however, that the government was in consultation with the UK over its stance towards Turkish violations of the island’s exclusive economic zone.

“It is a discussion that is open, the president has addressed a letter to Prime Minister (Theresa) May and consultations continue,” Prodromou said.

Last week, Cyprus protested to the UK after Minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan appeared to dispute the island’s exclusive economic zone.

Asked to say whether Cyprus linked its reaction to the UN decision with the consultations, Prodromou said discussion with Britain was based on the fact noted by the president.

“The UK has particular reasons to be careful in its position over the sovereign rights of the Republic due to the interests the UK has in relation with Cyprus,” Prodromou said.

The Chagos case has raised the question whether it is legitimate, under international law, for Britain to use such territories as military bases.

One of the 22 countries heard before the court was Cyprus with Attorney-general Costas Clerides representing the island.

Britain, which has overseen the region in the Indian Ocean since 1814, detached the Chagos islands in 1965 from Mauritius – a colony that gained independence three years later – to create the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). It is home to a joint British and US airbase.

Clerides said Thursday Cyprus now had two strong cases that could be used if the political leadership decided to do so.

“It has been clarified that if a colonial power does not carry out a full decolonization of the colonies it occupied, this constitutes a continuous violation of international law and a blatant violation of peoples’ right to self-determination,” Clerides said. “There cannot be self-determination with independence with part of the territory of the independent state remaining outside the territory … to be used for any purpose.”

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