Mauritius has hailed a decision by the UN postal agency to ban British stamps from being used on the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It marks a further step in the decades-long struggle to get back sovereignty of the islands from the UK.
The vote by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a United Nations agency focusing on the mail sector, follows a longstanding dispute between Mauritius and Britain over the Chagos Islands, where London and Washington operate a joint military base.
All stamps from the Chagos Islands must from now on bear stamps from Mauritius.
"This is another big step in favour of the recognition of the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos," Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said late Wednesday.
Although Mauritius became independent in 1968, the Chagos archipelago remained under British control, sparking protests by Chagossians, who accuse London of carrying out an "illegal occupation" and barring them from their homeland.
Last night @UPU_UN Congress meeting in #Abidjan voted by overwhelming majority to recognise #Chagos as part of #Mauritius and remove the 'British Indian Ocean Territory' from its membership. Another milestone for #decolonisation. pic.twitter.com/kyZVGVL3jN - Philippe Sands (@philippesands) August 25, 2021
Following Tuesday's vote, "the UPU will stop registering, distributing and transmitting stamps" bearing the words British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), the name given by Britain to the archipelago, Jugnauth said.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that Britain should give up control of the islands.
Later that year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising that "the Chagos Archipelago forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius" and urged UN agencies "to support the decolonisation of Mauritius".
There was no response from Britain to Tuesday's vote which took place in Abidjan.
Britain insists the archipelago belongs to London and has renewed a lease agreement with the United States to use Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, until 2036.
Diego Garcia played a strategic role during the Cold War, and then as an airbase, including during the war in Afghanistan.
Since 1975, Mauritius has made a concerted legal effort to secure the archipelago's return to its fold.
Earlier this month, the government denied a report that it has allowed India to build a military base on the remote island of Agalega, after the news sparked fears of a repeat of the 1965 decision by Britain to separate the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.