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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Emotional return for Chagossians
Returning Chagossians dedicate a memorial stone to mark their visit
The returnees dedicated a memorial stone to mark their visit
Islanders expelled from their Indian Ocean homes in the Chagos archipelago nearly 40 years ago, have spoken about their emotional first journey back to the islands.

The islanders are now back in Mauritius after a day day trip by boat to the homes they were forced to leave by the British government to make way for the US base on Diego Garcia.

They tended to the graves of their loved ones, and saw their abandoned homes, plantations, churches and cemeteries.

Their leader, Olivier Bancoult, described their sadness at seeing their homes lie derelict and vowed they would continue for the right to return.

"It was very emotional for all the Chagossians who were on board the ship. It has been so many years since we left our motherland," he told the BBC News website.

"We paid tribute to our parents and relatives who are buried there. It was an unforgettable moment."

Future visit hopes

They visited the main island of Diego Garcia as well as several of the outlying islands.

"We found with sadness that our islands, including my island of Peros Banhos, had been abandoned. It is a shame to let the place go like that. The graveyards and the churches are in a very bad state.

Cemetery on Ile du Coin
We feel all the churches and cemeteries should be maintained
Olivier Bancoult

"I took my mother back and she saw the graves of her father and mother for the first time since being expelled. Everyone was crying. The church where many had been baptized was derelict. That is unacceptable.

"We put up monuments on each island to commemorate our visit and we hope that they will be maintained. We feel that all the churches and cemeteries on all the islands should be properly maintained."

He said they passed through the base on Diego Garcia, but did not speak to any Americans. "We saw the B52 bombers and the bombs being stored," he added.

Now they hope for more visits, "because there were only 100 of us and others want to go back."

"And this is not the end of the matter," he went on. "We are stronger now and argue more strongly. We maintain our objective of returning to live in our birthplace. We think that justice must be done but this first visit was very successful."

Court judgement due

A second visit is being considered by the British Foreign Office and the government of Mauritius, which shared the organisation and cost of this trip.

But there is no prospect of the islanders being allowed back to live there in the foreseeable future, the BBC News website's world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds says.

Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia became a military base in the 1970s

The United States has a veto under existing agreements with Britain, which gives it the right to say who should live in the Chagos Islands - and it has said that for security reasons, there can be no return.

The British government has said that eventually Mauritius will be given sovereignty over the Chagos Islands, but only when what Foreign Office officials call "defence requirements" are ended.

Given that Diego Garcia is a key base for US operations in the whole region, that is unlikely to happen for many years, our correspondent notes.

A British High Court judgment is expected soon in a case in which the islanders have challenged the legality of the British expulsion orders.

But, whether that affects the reality of the islanders' situation remains to be seen, our correspondent adds.

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