The tiny island of Mauritius appears to be moving forward with its claim of sovereignty over the British territory of the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean.
By Nita Bhalla
Mauritius Prime Minister Paul Berenger says he sent a message to Tony Blair last week, following legal advice from international lawyers who say the secession of the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius by the British in 1965 was illegal.
The archipelago of 60 small islands has many natural resources and officials say that use of the islands would be key to Mauritius' future development.
Mauritius has for years claimed sovereignty over the islands, which lie about 1,000 km to its north-east.
But for fear of disrupting diplomatic ties with its former colonial power, Britain, Port Louis has never made a formal claim for them.
When Mauritius became independent three years after the islands were annexed, the British retained control and they became part of BOIT - British Indian Ocean Territory.
Legal opinions from international lawyers say the decree which separated the archipelago from Mauritius was illegal because international law does not allow the dismembering of a country before independence.
A pristine natural ecosystem with virgin forests and with waters bountiful in fish, the Chagos archipelago are one of the world's last remaining untouched group of islands.
Apart from the island of Diego Garcia, which has a major military air base leased by Britain to the US more than three decades ago, the archipelago is now uninhabited.
Officials say Mauritius could claim rent from the US for the use of Diego Garcia, exploit the archipelago's fishing resources and set up eco-tourism facilities.
The government also hopes to resettle thousands of Chagossians who were uprooted from their homes and moved to Mauritius and the Seychelles three decades ago to make way for the military base.
The islanders on Diego Garcia were exiled in the 1970s
Mauritian officials say they may be willing to leave Diego Garcia out of any negotiations until its 50-year renewable lease expires in 2016.
Diego Garcia's airstrips and long-range bombers were called into action during the US-led war against Iraq and are considered strategically important in the global war against terrorism.
Mauritius is now examining how to pursue its claim over Chagos and officials say they would seek negotiation with the British government, but have not ruled out recourse through the United Nations or the International Court of Justice.