Politics | Society | Human rights
Evicted Chagos islanders granted short visit home
The tale of the Chagos Archipelago and its inhabitants has remained a constant black spot in the Cold War history of the United Kingdom. In a secret deal with the US, the Britons agreed to empty the sparsely populated colony and evict its population to Mauritius. The US were to build their main Indian Ocean military base on the idyllic islands and wanted no disturbing local population at the top secret location.
"Wandering through the jungle pathways the Chagossians then went to the graveyard where they spent time tending their families' graves," the British Ministry said in its release. "A service was conducted on completion. The final act on the island was to hold a short service of dedication of a new memorial placed by the jetty commemorating their historic visit," it added.
The "humanitarian visit" had been being jointly organised by the British and Mauritian governments in co-operation with leaders of Chagossian communities living in Mauritius and Seychelles. "The role of the British and Mauritian governments is to facilitate the Chagossians own programme of events on each island," the Ministry noted. British Forces personnel were only "providing logistic support," it added.
The visits are to continue tomorrow, when the Chagossians will visit the Île de Coin in Peros Banhos and finally Diego Garcia on Thursday 6 April. These were the three main islands populated by Chagossians before the eviction. The main island of Diego Garcia currently hosts the US military base that still prevents Chagossians from returning.
The Mauritian government has been pushing London for a solution in the case of the evicted Chagossians for many years. Hosting a Chagossian community of approximately 600, islanders have shown great sympathy to the 38-year quest of the expelled to
While the 102 Chagossians leaving Port Louis yesterday were happy to finally see their islands again, many more felt it unfair that they had not been given the same opportunity. At Port Louis harbour in Mauritius, some 500 Chagossians waved goodbye to the few selected ones. Many were crying.
In the UK, which hosts several thousand Chagossians, it has been claimed that no one was offered an invitation to visit the archipelago. This today caused protests among groups of British Chagossians, saying they again had been "ignored" by government.
According to Robert Bain from the UK Chagos Support Association, however, Chagos refugees in Mauritius maintain that their British comrades had been "offered places, when the trip was first planned a few years ago, but they turned them down." The trip was postponed several times and when the British Chagossians finally decided they did want places, "it was too late," Mr Bain had been told.
Chagossians in Britain in 2000 nearly won the right to return to their homeland as the London High Court ruled their eviction had been illegal and that they could return. This hope in 2004 however was crushed as Queen Elizabeth II signed an order prohibiting their return to the islands permanently. But the legal battle continues as Chagossians have asked for a judicial review of the royal order.
Updated 6 April 2006
By staff writer
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