Mauritian ambassador to UN raises country’s flag above atoll of Peros Banhos
Officials raised the Mauritian flag above an atoll on the Chagos Islands, pictured, and sang the national anthem in a ceremony on Monday. Photograph: CPA Media Pte Ltd/Alamy
Britain’s ownership of the Chagos archipelago has been formally challenged after the Mauritian ambassador to the UN, Jagdish Koonjul, raised his country’s flag above the atoll of Peros Banhos.
In a ceremony on Monday at 10.30am local time, Mauritian officials sang their country’s national anthem and the red, blue, yellow and green standard was raised up the flagpole.
Koonjul said: “We are performing the symbolic act of raising the flag as the British have done so many times to establish colonies. We, however, are reclaiming what has always been our own.”
A pre-recorded message by the Mauritian prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, was broadcast on a speaker to the Chagossians, Mauritian officials and media assembled on the beach.
“This is the first time Mauritius has led an expedition to this part of its territory,” he said. “I feel sad that I have not been able to be part of this historic visit.
“I’m delighted that our Chagossian brothers and sisters are able to travel to their birthplace without any foreign [ie British] escort.
“The message I wish to give out to the world, as the state with sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago, is that we will ensure a wise stewardship of its territory – over its maritime security, conservation of the marine environment and human rights, notably the return of those of Chagossian origin.”
A metal plaque secured beneath the flagpole said: “Visit of the Mauritius delegation to Peros Banhos archipelago, Republic of Mauritius, in the context of the scientific survey of Blenheim Reef.”
In a phone call to the Guardian shortly after the flag was raised, the Mauritian prime minister said: “This is a very emotional moment for me and a very historic time for us because we are able to raise our flag on our own territory.
“The international community and international institutions have already decided that this is our territory. What we are doing is legitimate.”
Asked what would happen if UK officials later removed the Mauritian flag, Jugnauth said: “I don’t know what they are going to do. If they remove the flag, this will amount to a provocation on their part. The UK is not abiding by international law judgments.”
After the ceremony, the crew of the cruise ship Bleu de Nîmes, chartered by Mauritius, arranged a barbecue on the beach.
Wifi communications from the ship have been disrupted for the past 24 hours. Another vessel was seen nearby. It was not clear whether this was a UK-owned fisheries protection ship.