Former gov'ts did not attempt to resolve Chagos issue: gov't

Previous governments have not tried to find a solution to the Chagos issue, the Maldives government has said.

Chagos is 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 Islands, after Mauritius claimed the Chagos Archipelago as Mauritian territory when Mauritius gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968. Maldives became embroiled in the dispute as the country's EEZ overlaps with that of Chagos.

In 2019, Mauritius alleged that the Maldives' territorial waters and the territorial waters of Chagos overlapped and took the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). While the Maldives has decided to vote at the United Nations (UN) in favor of recognizing Chagos as part of Mauritius, the Foreign Ministry has said the Maldives treats the issue of Chagos archipelago as an internal dispute between the United Kingdom and Mauritius, and that the Maldives is not directly involved in the issue.

At a press conference held at the President's Office on Tuesday night, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath and Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid provided details of how the past governments had acted on the matter of Chagos.

Minister Shahid said in 1992, the Maldives signed an agreement with the UK regarding the overlapping economic territory of Maldives and Mauritius. He also noted that in 2010, then-Foreign Minister Dr. Ahmed Shaheed had agreed that the territorial waters of both countries overlapped. Shahid said when the 1997 Constitution was ratified, it did not declare the Chagos archipelago as an area under the Maldives' sovereignty. Previous governments have not admitted to it, and there are no documents to prove it, added.

Stating that some who were well-informed on the matter were misleading the people on purpose, Shahid said the government's stand on the issue of the Maldives' territorial boundary has not changed. The Minister further said the Maldives is proposing and advocating to attain the largest territory possible for the Maldives. He said the Maldives would not back down one bit on the issue.

At the press conference, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath addressed allegations by Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and other MPs that the government was not sharing information with the Parliament on the Chagos issue. Denying the allegations, Riffath said the information on how Maldives governments have been dealing with the case had been shared with the Parliament in writing on February 17.

However, the Parliament Secretariat said Wednesday that the office had not received some documents regarding the case. A press release by the Parliament Secretariat said the President’s letter to the Prime Minister of Mauritius on the Maldives's decision on the Chagos issue and the resolution calling for the extradition of the Chagos to Mauritius had not been shared with the Parliament.

The press release further said while the media has been reporting that the Maldives had changed its stand on the Chagos issue, the relevant parliament committee sent two letters to the Attorney General's Office this February requesting to meet with the Attorney General and officials from the Attorney General's Office to obtain more information o the issue and discuss the matter. In response to the letters, the Attorney-General's Office sent two letters to the parliament containing information on the ITLOS case on the disputed territorial area between the Maldives and Chagos.

The Attorney General's Office had communicated to the Parliament that the contents of the documents submitted to the tribunal should remain confidential until the open hearing of the case and that the team of international lawyers appointed to represent Maldives at ITLOS had advised not to disclose the details, the parliamentary office said in a letter. No information about the case has been shared since the letters that warned that disclosure would adversely affect the case were sent to the Parliament, the office said.