Will Diego Garcia Ever Be Retuned To Its People?
Diego Garcia is the largest island in the Chagos Archipelago region which lies in the Indian ocean and is halfway between Indonesia and Africa.
The island currently houses a vast US military base, the Chagos Islands population was expelled in the late 1960's, after the USA had leased them from the UK. It is due to expire in 2016.
The inhabitants always believed they would be able to return to their homes. Now it seems the lease will be extended by a further 20 years.(to be agreed by December 2014).
It seems Diego Garcia may never be retuned to its people.
History of Diego Garcia
Mauritius was a self governing British colony and sold the Chagos Islands to the United Kingdom in 1965, as part of the independence plan for Mauritius, which was granted in 1968.
Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, the then Prime Minister of Mauritius was granted a knighthood shortly after the deal.
The United States had hinted to the UK that is was looking to establish a military base in the Indian ocean and the largest of these islands was sold of to the USA in a deal which saw Britain gain Polaris missiles which were sold to them at a discounted rate.A good business deal for both countries.
As the islands was required uninhabited, Britain moved its 1500 or so populous to the Seychelles and Mauritius. They did not even have time to pack, and were left stranded in a strange country with no belongings.
It would be many years before people would know the full story behind their removal, including the US themselves
Since 1971 billions of dollars has been pumped into the project to build a giant Military base. First to be commissioned was a Naval Communication Station, followed by the construction of a ship channel and turning basin. Next on the production line was a aircraft runway, including its supporting facilities.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the 1980's, the Indian Ocean Islands saw further development.
Dredging began at Diego Garcia to enlarge its berthing facilities, and the onshore facilities were also improved.
Diego Garcia In Action
Today Diego Garcia is a major support base for the armed forces and the US fleet.It is home to nearly 2,000 military personnel(army and navy), as well as more than 1,500 civilian contractors.
This Military Outpost has served as an important refuelling base in the 1991 gulf war.
It has been used for launching long range missiles aimed at Iraq.
More recent use was in the war against Afghanistan, where B-52 bombers took off from the island.
The Islanders Fight
When the Islanders were exiled to make way for the base,the Chagossions were simply dismissed as "temporary contract workers" from Mauritius and the Seychelles, with no right to live on the islands.
The truth is that most were born there, and had lived on the islands for two generations. This was covered up by the British government at the time.
Initial compensation of a miserly 1 million Dollars was paid to the islanders in 1972 and a further 4 million pounds in 1982,but only with a clause. If the Chagossians took the money as a full and final payment, they would deny themselves a return to the Chagos. Most signed, but only for the need of finances and out of ignorance for the situation.A few continue the battle.
A landmark was reached in 2000 with a High Court ruling that stated the exiling of the Chagos islanders had been unlawful.Again the British government tried to have this overturned.It was not until 2006 that the Chagos people found justice in the high court and Britain's ministers were again overruled.
The ruling stated that although they could not live on the main island of Diego Garcia,they should be allowed to return to any of the other islands in the Chagos archipelago.
Since 2010 more pressure has been put on the British government Many Chagossians now have British citizenship, and around 800 have moved to the UK where they continue their fight in the courts.
It was in the same year that the UK established a Marine Protected Area around the Islands. in fact it is the world’s largest of its kind. This would make it extremely difficult for any returning Islanders to make a living, if they were unable to fish.
A further ruling is due from the high courts on the validity of the zone.Another obstacle created to prevent any return to the area.
Mauritius is now claiming sovereignty of the islands, and threatening to sue Britain again.
The islands now have a very well established military base, and there is only a slender chance that they can return to the surrounding islands.
What has become apparent it is going to be vey difficult for the British government to cover up that Diego Garcia was stolen from its inhabitants.
The current government will have to negotiate the future lease of the islands(a formality really), and the sovereignty claim of the islands by Mauritius.( who will certainly allow the US to use the islands as a military base)More deals are likely to be done.
For now it remains a British colony,and an extremely embarrassing colony where successive governments have lied to the British public for nearly fifty years about expelling the population of Diego Garcia.
It is not surprising that few people may not of heard of Diego Garcia,or know where it is.Certainly no one in the British government are to keen to publicise the existence of Diego Garcia.
It will be very difficult for the ordinary person, to influence the future of the desperate Chaggosian people.Those with power will continue to ignore them in their selfish pursuit of control.
"Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
These are the words of the UN, article 13 from the Declaration of Human Rights.
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