The tropical islands of Mauritius and the Maldives usually showcase a laid-back holiday approach to life. Not now though. The two are involved in a dispute that’s exciting international law experts and intriguing anyone interested in how to deal with the last vestiges of colonialism — more specifically, with a vestigial ribbon from the old British Empire.

In 1810, the British captured Ile de France and renamed it Mauritius. In the mid-20th century, talks began about independence for this island state and the future of what is now a sticking point, the Chagos Archipelago...

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