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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Islanders in Diego Garcia stand-off

The exiled islanders from the Indian Ocean archipelago of Chagos are turning down an opportunity to return home for the first time in 30 years, unless the proposal includes the island of Diego Garcia currently occupied by the US military.

The islanders want to be allowed to visit the Chagos island of Diego Garcia, from which they were evicted to make way for a US base which was recently used to launch B-52 and Stealth bombers in the attack on Afghanistan.

Last Wednesday, Britain announced that it would take the Chagos islanders "to visit their ancestors' graves", the Mauritius newspaper L'Express reported.

Britain governed the archipelago as part of its colony of Mauritius, and named it the British Indian Ocean Territory after Mauritius gained independence in 1965.

Chagos activists say they have done everything possible to include Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, on the itinerary of the long awaited-trip scheduled for October.

We refuse in sympathy with all those Chagos islanders who used to live on Diego Garcia
Chagos activist Olivier Bancoult

But the American military has refused to allow any visits.

According to L'Express, Olivier Bancoult, the head of the Chagos Refugee Group, said: "We refuse in sympathy with all those Chagos islanders who used to live on Diego Garcia."

Mr Bancoult himself was exiled from his home on the Chagos island of Peros Banhos in 1968, when he was just four years old.

According to L'Express, the concerned parties have also "chosen to decline the invitation by the British authorities because the latter are dictating to them the names of the people to make the trip".

This is despite the fact that "the long-time dream... to walk upon their native land for the first time in decades of exile, is now within arm's reach", the paper said.

Illegal eviction

The islanders were evicted by the British in the 60s and early 70s, after Britain struck a deal to lease its Indian Ocean territory to the American military for 50 years.

The US wanted a base that could operate without interference from the local population, so Britain expelled nearly 1,800 descendants of African slaves and Indian plantation workers mainly to the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles.

At the time, Britain claimed Diego Garcia had no native inhabitants and the Chagos islanders were simply temporary labourers rather than people who had lived there for generations.

An historic ruling by the High Court in London last year deemed the eviction illegal and won the islanders the right to visit their homeland after over 30 years in exile.

The islanders have never fully integrated into their adopted communities and say the expulsion condemned them to a lifetime of poverty.

Large sections of the Chagos community in Mauritius are unemployed and lived in squalor, while 4,000 American sailors and contractors enjoy the beaches of Diego Garcia.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The Chagos Islands: A sordid tale
03 Nov 00  |  Politics

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