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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT


Islanders accuse UK of unlawful exile

Diego Garcia is now home to a major US air base

A group of islanders from the Indian Ocean has accused the British government of unlawfully sending them into exile.

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The people of Chagos Islands, part of the British Indian Ocean territory, have brought a High Court case against the government, which they also accuse of "dumping" them over a thousand miles away from their homes to make way for a major strategic US military base on Diego Garcia.

The fundamental rights of the people - who are British subjects known as Ilois - are still being violated through their continuing exile, the court heard.

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The 4,000 islanders are now demanding that the UK Government return them to the land of their birth.

Sydney Kentridge QC, said he was applying for permission to bring a High Court challenge in London against a permanent ban on the return of one man to the place of his birth.

One man's story

Louise Bancoult, 51, was born on the island of Peros Banhos in the Chagos archipelago. He left in 1967 to travel with his family 1,200 miles away to Mauritius as his sister needed medical treatment.

Mr Bancoult, who is now chairman of the Chagos Refugees Group in Mauritius, and his relatives were never allowed back and have lived in Mauritius ever since.

"People who were taken from the Chagos archipelago were simply dumped in Mauritius," Mr Kentridge said.

Many of the people had been living on the islands for generations and their exile was "not one of the happiest episodes", he added.

The judge, Mr Justice Scott Baker, commented: "It doesn't look very impressive, does it?"

Fundamental rights

The islanders, having been born in a British dependent territory, hold dual British citizenship, and their lawyers are challenging their removal as a breach of English and international law.

Mr Kentridge argued the islanders should be able to return "as a right of birth and citizenship". He said Magna Carta itself forbade the unlawful banishment of citizens.

But allowing the islanders to return to the Chagos Islands is bound to prove unacceptable to the US because of the highly sensitive military base on Diego Garcia.

The British Government is arguing that the High Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

But if they are successful, the islanders will be given leave to proceed with a judicial review.

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