MRM: Police shift in Chagos issue should be clarified

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (L) shakes hands with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (R). (Photo/Twitter)

Government’s coalition partner, Maldives Reform Movement (MRM), has called on the government to clarify the shift in policy to recognize sovereign power of Mauritius over Chagos Islands.

The territorial dispute is over an area between the Maldives and Chagos Islands - a group of seven atolls comprising more than 60 islands in the Indian Ocean about 500 kilometers south of the Maldives archipelago.

For decades, Mauritius and the United Kingdom have been in a dispute over ownership of the Chagos, after Mauritius claimed the Chagos archipelago as Mauritian territory when Mauritius gained independence from the UK in 1968. Maldives became involved in the dispute as the country's exclusive economic zone overlaps with that of Chagos.

Mauritius lodged the case with the ITLOS under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on August 23, 2019.

Maldives had voted against a 2019 resolution in the UN General Assembly calling for the UK to relinquish claim over Chagos and hand the islands over to Mauritius within six months, citing a formal protest filed by Mauritius protesting against a case lodged by Maldives with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in 2010, asking for Maldives’ continental shelf to be extended beyond 200 nautical miles.

During verbal proceedings in the case last week, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath said Maldives had decided to vote in favor of the Chagos decolonization resolution in the UN General Assembly this year, and that the Maldivian president had informed his decision in a letter to the Mauritius prime minister.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) said that decisions regarding votes in the UN General Assembly are linked to Maldives’ foreign policy – and that such decisions lie in the purview of the president.

AGO also insists that the decision by Maldives to vote in favor of the Chagos decolonization resolution in the UN General Assembly and the ongoing dispute at the ITLOS are two separate issues and that the vote will have no effect on the dispute.

They also stressed that Maldives’ interests were properly defended in accordance with international conventions and legal principles and decisions before the ITLOS.

The policy shift has sparked fear that the Maldives might lose part of its exclusive economic zone.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s party, MRM, in a statement on Friday, said that Maldives is a nation that has always voted against colonizing countries, adding the policy is not just of the current administration.

The statement read that Maldives had refused to recognize Mauritius’ sovereignty over Chagos, as at that time when Mauritius gained independence from the UK, Chagos was not a part of the country. Another reason Maldives had refused to recognize Mauritius’ sovereignty over Chagos as per the statement was the decrease in the size of Maldives’ exclusive economic zone, and the loss of natural resources entitled to the Maldives.

“As the shift in policy has not been explained after voting against recognizing recognize Mauritius’ sovereignty over Chagos in 2019, MRM feels that the turn of events must be clarified since the citizens believe there must be a reason behind this,” the statement read.

MRM, in their statement, also emphasized that the party, included in the government coalition, was not informed of the policy shift.

They also stressed the adverse impact on the fisheries sector as a result since the issue correlates to the economy of the Maldives.

“Therewith, this party calls on the government to disclose legitimate information regarding this issue to the citizens as soon as possible. MRM will not support any decision which undermines the sovereignty of Maldives,” they said in the statement.