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Thursday, 31 October, 2002, 10:43 GMT
Diego Garcia islanders battle to return
Diego Garcia
Paradise lost: Islanders have suffered since deportation
Exiled islanders from the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia are launching a legal action in a London court, seeking to return to their "paradise" home and get compensation from Britain for being deported.

Nearly 2,000 people from the Chagos Islands were moved to Mauritius and the Seychelles 30 years ago to make way for a military base on Diego Garcia, which the United States leases from Britain.

Two years ago, a court in London ruled that the deportation was illegal; the islanders are now seeking compensation, and the right to return to all of the islands, including Diego Garcia.

But the government does not want the islanders back on Diego Garcia which could be used as a base for a US attack on Iraq.

The US is already planning to move B-2 heavy bombers to the island base.

Decades of action

The islanders launched their first court action in the 1970s.

Chagos islanders
Chagos Islands

  • Formerly part of Mauritius
  • Became British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) after Mauritius independence in 1965
  • 1970: Islanders told they would have to leave

  • Ten years later, Britain made a payment which it intended as a settlement of all compensation claims.

    More recently, the government said it would allow the islanders to return and to reside in any part of the territory but Diego Garcia, for defence reasons.

    But the islanders are adamant that they should be allowed to return to Diego Garcia and their lawyers are focusing on that claim and on compensation for what they call 30 years of poverty and exile.

    Two years ago Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Gibbs quashed the 1971 Immigration Ordinance, which gave the deportation legal authority.

    Social problems

    The judges said they understood the pressing considerations of military security, but there had been "an abject legal failure" in carrying out the deportation.

    The official zeal in implementing those removal policies went beyond any proper limits

    Mr Justice Gibbs
    After that court victory, Louis Bancoult, chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius, said that many of those forced out of their "paradise" had suffered damaged health from poor living conditions and the strain of being dispossessed.

    Most have lived in slum conditions in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

    Many have turned to alcohol and many say they have experienced racism as well because they are blacker than many Mauritians.

    The importance of the base has been reinforced, with last year's American-led bombing in Afghanistan - in which the base was used to launch B-52s against the Taleban - and with the possibility of an attack against Iraq.

    In the latest evidence of a US military build up for a possible conflict, an Air Force colonel said on Wednesday the Pentagon was preparing to deploy heavy B-2 bombers to Britain and Diego Garcia in time to lead an attack on Iraq.

    The radar-evading B-2 is capable of flying more than 6,000 miles (9,600 km) without needing to refuel while carrying 40,000 pounds of bombs.

    President George W Bush has threatened to attack Iraq unless President Saddam Hussein agrees to United Nations-verified disarmament.

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