Last year I wrote about one of the worst cases of forced repatriation in British history.
Two thousand people were scared into fleeing their island paradise after their dogs were rounded up and gassed to death.
The Chagos Islands were leased to the US for 50 years by the Harold Wilson government as part of a squalid deal on nuclear weapons. The islanders were made to flee because the US wanted to turn one of the islands, Diego Garcia, into an American base.
The Chagossians who fled found themselves without a country or home. Many went to Mauritius where they had to live in slum areas while some made it to the UK. Neither could ever replace their island home.
That lease is up for renewal next year and the Americans want to renew the agreement for another 20 years. Britain must give notice soon if it wishes to grant the extension.
The Foreign Secretary is now looking at all the options, from extending the lease to compensating the islanders or even allowing them to go home.
Sadly the chance of them returning was made slimmer by the last Labour government. In 2010, David Miliband – then Foreign Secretary – declared that the waters around the islands were to become a marine protected area. It was implemented by an Order in Council without a parliamentary debate. While this was claimed to be good for the environment, it also meant anyone returning to the island would be banned from fishing – stopping them earning a living and feeding their families.
So why is America so keen to keep Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands? Well, it’s effectively become a key American base. That’s what they mean by a “special relationship”.
It’s been used for bombing missions to Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably if the lease is extended, it could be used against Iran.
There are even allegations it had been used in the “rendition” – i.e. illegal abduction – of terrorist suspects, many of whom turned out to be innocent.
Our Intelligence and Security Committee investigated and reported that there was no evidence of such rendition flights stopping at Diego Garcia. But the Americans later admitted that certain unlogged planes had landed there.
Now the US Senate Intelligence Committee has revealed a great deal of their torture operations took place in bases outside America, such as Afghanistan, Cuba and a number of European states, Poland, Lithuania and Romania. This confirms a report from the Council of Europe, which I sit in, that first made the claims about rendition flights some years ago.
For Britain the question is: “Do we continue to allow this base to be used for what could be criminal activities, including the possible abduction and torture of innocent people?”
Before we start to think about extending the lease on Diego Garcia and the other Chagos Islands, we should uncover the truth to see if it was used for criminal activity.
But we also carried out a major injustice to those islanders.
Now is the time to assess, as attempts are being made to at the moment, whether those people can have the opportunity to return, even during any possible future agreement with America.
Of course there’ll be some concern as to whether the Chagossians are motivated by a genuine desire to return to their homeland or are simply looking for compensation. The best way to assess that is to give them what we gave the Falkland Islanders – a referendum on their future.
Giving a referendum to the Chagossians is the very least we owe them for our part in this disgraceful episode.
And allowing them to return to their island paradise would be the greatest Christmas present Britain could ever give.
Meanwhile in another news, Emirates president and CEO Sir Tim Clark made world headlines in October when he revealed his doubts about the fate of the missing plane – Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared early in the morning of March 8 this year.
In an interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, Sir Tim voiced his scepticism about the complete lack of wreckage from the incident, and the electronic satellite “handshakes” which positioned the plane in the southern Indian Ocean.
Now a second senior airline industry source has voiced his doubts about the fate of the plane, with the claim that the Boeing 777 may have been shot down by US military personnel who were fearing a September 11-style attack on the US base on the island.
The former boss of Proteus Airlines, Marc Dugain, put forward his theory that the plane crashed near the remote Indian Ocean island in a recent edition of Paris Match.
Dugain speculated that the plane’s computers may have been subject to a remote hacking, or an on-board fire, which prompted a diversion from its flight path.
The island is currently home to 1700 U.S. military personnel and 1500 civilian contractors.
The island archipelago consists of over 50 small islands in the Indian Ocean. It was home to 1,500-2,000 indigenous peoples, mostly of African, Malagasy and Indian origin brought to the islands as slaves to work on coconut plantations in the 18th century.
In 1960, a US Navy admiral visited the islands to survey the land for a huge military base. At the time, the islands belonged to UK and were governed from Mauritius. When Mauritius gained independence from UK in 1968, it was under the condition that Mauritius would not claim the islands. The agreement – in direct contradiction with UN resolution 1514 and international law which stated that colonies being decolonized had to be done as a whole – not carved up for profit – was hidden from both the British Parliament and US Congress.
Source Credits: John Prescott in Mirror, news.com.au, Counter Punch