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The Battle of 1500 at Diego Garcia

coconut crabs at chagos islands

On June 22nd, 2017 the UN weighed in on a dispute between Britain and Mauritius over the Chagos islands, a tiny but strategically important archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Ninety-four countries sided with Mauritius; just 15 backed Britain… Only four members of the EU voted with Britain; one, Cyprus, voted with Mauritius and 22 abstained, including usually reliable allies France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

The roots of the dispute go back to 1965, when Britain lopped off the Chagos islands from Mauritius, at the time a British colony. It loaned the largest island, Diego Garcia, to America to use as a military base. Since then the atoll, which is within striking distance of east Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia, has become indispensable for America’s armed forces, who nickname it “the footprint of freedom”. It gives them control over the Indian Ocean and has served as a base for long-range bombers to pummel Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA used it as a “black site” in its rendition programme.

But taking over Diego Garcia for military use meant deporting some 1,500 Chagossians, mostly to Mauritius and the Seychelles. They have never been allowed to return; many moved to Britain. (After landing at Gatwick airport, they were given temporary accommodation nearby in Crawley, where most of them still live.)

The importance of the vote should not be exaggerated. It refers the case to the ICJ, whose opinion will be non-binding….The ICJ will probably offer an advisory opinion on the matter, but not before the spring of 2019.

Excerpt from: Britain and Diego Garcia: Tropical Storm, Economist, July 1, 2017

Torture Island: Diego Garcia

The United States military facilities on Diego Garcia have been known informally as Camp Justice.  Image from Wikipedia

The UK government is facing renewed pressure to make a full disclosure of its involvement in the CIA’s post-9/11 kidnap and torture programme after another leading Bush-era US official said suspects were held and interrogated on the British territory of Diego Garcia. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the US state department, said the Indian Ocean atoll was used by the CIA as “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time”.  In an interview with Vice News, Wilkerson said three US intelligence sources had informed him that the CIA used Diego Garcia for what he described as “nefarious activities”, with prisoners being held for weeks at a time…

Diego Garcia’s population was removed during the late 1960s and early 70s and forced to settle on the Seychelles and Mauritius. Since then the atoll has been leased by the UK to the US for use as a military base.

Wilkerson is the latest of a number of well-placed officials who have said that after 9/11 the atoll was also used in the CIA rendition programme.Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star American general, has twice spoken publicly about the use of Diego Garcia to detain suspects. Manfred Nowak, a former United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said he has heard from reliable sources that the US held prisoners on ships in the Indian Ocean. Dick Marty, a Swiss senator who led a Council of Europe investigation into the CIA’s use of European territory and air space, said he received confirmation of the use of the atoll. He later said he received the assistance of some CIA officers during his investigation….There also is a wealth of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Diego Garcia was used in the so-called rendition programme…

Excerpt from  Ian Cobain, CIA interrogated suspects on Diego Garcia, says Colin Powell aide,  Guardian, Jan. 30, 2015

Why Nations Become Marine Protected Areas

Diego Garcia. Image from wikipedia

In November 1965, the UK purchased the entire Chagos Archipelago from the then self governing colony of Mauritius for £3 million to create the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), with the intent of ultimately closing the plantations to provide the uninhabited British territory from which the U.S. would conduct its military activities in the region. On 30 December 1966, the U.S. and the UK executed an Agreement through an Exchange of Notes which permit the United States Armed Forces to use any island of the BIOT for defense purposes for 50 years (through December 2016), followed by a 20-year optional extension (to 2036) to which both parties must agree by December 2014. As of 2010, only the atoll of Diego Garcia has been transformed into a military facility.  The indigenous populations of the islands were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for a joint United States-United Kingdom military base on Diego Garcia.

There are two transnational political issues which affect the status of the Chagos archipelago.  First, the island nation of Mauritius claims the Chagos Archipelago (which is coterminous with the BIOT), including Diego Garcia. A subsidiary issue is the Mauritian opposition to the 1 April 2010 UK Government’s declaration that the BIOT is a Marine Protected Area with fishing and extractive industry (including oil and gas exploration) prohibited.

Second, the issue of compensation and repatriation of the former inhabitants of several of the archipelago’s atolls, exiled since 1973, continues in litigation and as of 23 August 2010 has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights by a group of former residents.Litigation continues as of 2012 regarding the right of return for the displaced islanders and Mauritian sovereignty claims. In addition, advocacy on the Chagossians’ behalf continues both in the United States and in Europe.  According to a document released by wikileaks the marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago was established to prevent former inhabitants “to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands.”

Excerpts from wikipedia Chagos Archipelago

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