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UN vote backing Chagos Islands a blow for UK

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  • As Merkel describes UK’s Brexit offer on EU citizens a good start

The UK has suffered a humiliating defeat at the United Nations general assembly in a vote over decolonisation and its residual hold over disputed territory in the Indian Ocean.

By a margin of 94 to 15 countries, delegates supported a Mauritian-backed resolution to seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the legal status of the Chagos Islands.

A further 65 countries abstained on Thursday, including many EU states who might have been expected to vote in support of another bloc member.

Among EU members who abstained were France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Greece and Finland. Canada and Switzerland also abstained.

Speaking after the vote Jagdish Koonjul, the Mauritian representative at the UN, said: “I’m elated. The results are beyond my expectations. It’s interesting that the EU didn’t support the UK. Even some of the countries that supported the UK agreed that this was an issue of decolonisation. Now we wait to see what the UK will do as a result of the vote. We have given the US full comfort of a long-term lease [for the Diego Garcia base] that would be renewable [if sovereignty passed to Mauritius].”

The resolution, though only in favour of obtaining a non-binding legal opinion, is a blow to the UK’s international prestige and demonstrates the limited diplomatic influence wielded by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, at the UN.

The row between Mauritius and the UK – over what Britain terms BIOT, or British Indian Ocean Territory – has become increasingly acrimonious in recent years.

In 1965, three years before Mauritius was granted independence, the UK decided to separate the Chagos Islands, an archipelago, from the rest of its Indian Ocean colony. The Mauritian government claims this was in breach of UN resolution 1514, passed in 1960, which specifically banned the breakup of colonies before independence.

Most of the 1,500 islanders were deported so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US for a strategic airbase in 1971. The US was one of the few countries that publicly backed the UK over the islands’ fate. The islanders have never been allowed to return home.

The UK has promised to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius when they are no longer needed for defence purposes, but has refused to give a date.

In the meantime, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described UK plans to ensure the rights of EU citizens in Britain after Brexit as “a good start”.

However, she said there were “many, many other questions” about Brexit and there was “still a lot to do”.

The UK proposal was unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

It would grant EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years a new “UK settled status”.

That would allow them to stay in the country and access health, education and other benefits.

The plan would affect 3.2 million EU citizens now living in the UK.

Their rights – and the rights of UK citizens living in the rest of the EU – are among the thorny issues that have to be resolved early on in Brexit talks, along with the UK’s divorce bill and the Northern Ireland border.

“Theresa May made clear today that EU citizens who have been in Great Britain for five years can keep their full rights. That’s a good start,” said Mrs Merkel at the end of Thursday’s talks.

“But of course there are many, many other questions about Brexit – about finances, about the relationship with Ireland – which means we still have a lot to do until October.”

She insisted that Brexit was not the focus of the summit – the UK’s split from the EU is being negotiated separately.

“For me the shaping of the future of the 27 is a priority coming before the issue of the negotiations with Britain on the exit,” she added.

Before Mrs May’s offer, the EU proposed that EU citizens in the UK and the estimated 1.2 million Britons living in EU countries should continue enjoying the same rights, enforceable by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

At the summit, the PM sought to reassure the 27 other EU states, saying the UK “does not want anyone here to have to leave, nor does it want families to be split up”.

“No-one will face a cliff edge,” she said.

The UK stunned the EU when it voted to end its membership in a referendum a year ago on Friday. The exit deadline is 30 March 2019.

The summit’s final day is to focus on migration, security and economic issues.

Counter-terrorism has been a key issue at the summit which comes in the wake of an attack in Brussels on Tuesday.

Several EU states have been attacked in recent weeks, including the UK, France and Sweden, and Mrs May said that an attack against any member state was an attack on all.

Guardian with additional report from BBC

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U.S. strikes 2 targets in Syria in response to ‘continued attacks’

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The U.S. military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to “continued attacks” against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The strikes were conducted against a training facility in Abu Kamal and a safe house in Mayadin in the eastern governorate of Deir Ezzor, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a brief statement.

The U.S. struck similar targets in eastern Syria in October and earlier in November.

Pro-Iranian militias have intensified their attacks on U.S. military bases in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks as a response to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The security situation in the entire region has been particularly tense since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged deadly attacks in southern Israel.

Israel is responding with an overwhelming air and ground offensive in Gaza.

As a deterrent, the U.S. has moved more weapons systems, warships and air squadrons to the Eastern Mediterranean, and is deploying several hundred troops to the Middle East to support US units there.

U.S. President Joe Biden had ordered Sunday’s action to make it clear that the U.S. was defending itself, its personnel, and its interests, Austin stressed.

The U.S. is prepared to take further necessary measures to protect its own people and interests.

  • dpa
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Russia writes off $23bn debt for Africa – Putin

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Russia sends almost 12m tons of grain to Africa says Putin

…Pledges additional $90 million***

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, says the Russian Government has written off $23 billion debt burden of African countries.

Putin spoke at the plenary session of the ongoing second Russia–Africa Summit 2023 held from July 27 to July 28.

He said Moscow would allocate an additional $90 million for these purposes.

Putin said Russia was advocating the expansion of representation of African countries in the UN Security Council and other UN structures.

“Russia and Africa strive to develop cooperation in all areas and strengthen ‘honest, open, constructive’ partnership.

“Russia will also assist in opening new African embassies and consulates in Russia,” he said.

According to him, the reopening of embassies in Burkina Faso and Equatorial Guinea is going as planned.

He said sovereignty was “not a one-time achieved state,” and it must be constantly protected.

Putin also offered assistance to Africa in countering threats such as terrorism, piracy, and transnational crimes adding that it would continue to train personnel from African countries.

He assured that Russian businesses have a lot to offer partners from Africa.

Putin said transition to national currencies and the establishment of transport and logistics chains would contribute to the increase in mutual trade turnover.

“Russia is ready to provide trade preferences to Africa, support the creation of modern production sectors, agricultural sector, and provide assistance through relevant international structures and agencies.

“Russia will always be a responsible international supplier of agricultural products,” he said.

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U.S. Coastguard Finds ‘debris field’ Near Missing Vessel

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A “debris field” has been discovered within the search area for the missing Titan submersible, the U.S. Coastguard (USCG) said on Thursday.

The agency said a remotely-operated vehicle made the discovery near the wreckage of the Titanic on Thursday.

The hunt for the missing deep-sea vessel is still an “active search and rescue” mission after it lost communication on Sunday.

The vessel was about 700 kilometres south of St John’s, Newfoundland, during a voyage to the Titanic shipwreck off the coast of Canada.

Coastguard officials said they were “evaluating the information” following Thursday’s debris discovery.

A press conference will be held at the Coastguard base in Boston to “discuss the findings” at 8pm (1900 GMT).

Rear Admiral John Mauger, the first Coastguard district commander, and Captain Jamie Frederick, first Coastguard district response coordinator, will lead the press conference.

Founding member of the Board of Trustees of The Explorers Club, Hamish Harding, was on board the undersea craft, alongside UK-based businessman Shahzada Dawood, his son Suleman Dawood, and OceanGate’s chief executive and founder Stockton Rush, as well as French submersible pilot Paul-Henri Nargeolet.

The USCG said the ROV that made the discovery was from the Canadian Horizon Arctic ship – with the debris being found on the sea floor near the Titanic wreckage.

Assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) is due to arrive in St John’s on Thursday after it confirmed a request was received overnight for help with the movement of additional commercial equipment.

Two RAF planes, a C-17 Globemaster and A400 Atlas, departed RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland on Thursday.

A British submariner and equipment from a UK firm have been sent to help the search at the request of the U.S. Coastguard, Downing Street said.

Royal Navy submariner Lieutenant Commander Richard Kantharia, who was on exchange with the U.S. Navy, has been seconded to the search and rescue team.

OceanGate Expeditions estimated the oxygen supply on the 6.7 metre-long vessel would last 96 hours, giving rescuers a deadline of around midday on Thursday.

Experts said the chances of finding the sub and rescuing those inside were diminishing.

Former Royal Navy submarine captain Ryan Ramsey told the PA news agency: “The outlook is bleak, that’s the only word for it as this tragic event unfolds and almost the closing stages of where this changes from rescue to a salvage mission.”

The Titan is believed to be about 900 miles east and 400 miles south of Newfoundland.

It is not known how deep the vessel is, with the seabed being around 3,800 metres from the surface. 

– dpa

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