Britain should quickly give up control of the Chagos archipelago, the Indian Ocean islands that house the secretive US airbase at Diego Garcia but are claimed by Mauritius, the International Court of Justice said yesterday.
Judges in The Hague said in a legal "advisory opinion" on a decades-old dispute that Britain had illegally split the islands from Mauritius at independence in the 1960s, after which thousands of islanders were deported.
The court's view is not binding but it carries a heavy symbolic importance as it was specially tasked by the United Nations General Assembly to give its view on the row between London and Port Louis over the fate of the island chain.
It also comes as a stunning blow to London in a case that goes to the heart of historic issues of decolonisation and current questions about Britain's place in the world as it prepares to leave the EU. "The United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible, thereby allowing Mauritius to complete the decolonisation of its territory," chief judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said.
Then colonial power Britain split off the islands from Mauritius -- which lies around 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) away -- three years before Port Louis gained independence in 1968.