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LALIT Conference on Diego Garcia Precipitates Reactions


The LALIT Conference on Diego Garcia and Chagos which ended on 2 November and which called for the Mauritian State to take action has had an immediate effect. Even before the Conference Declaration has been submitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, but after press reports and radio bulletins on the Conference, Mauritian Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam announced, the day after the Conference ended, that the Government is no longer going to just hold "talks". He accused the UK Government of being "liars", "hypocrites" and "tricksters". He has announced that the Mauritian Government will call for IAEA inspections under the Pelindaba Treaty, as the Conference Declaration called for it to do, and has announced a form of Regional Assembly for Chagos similar to the one for Rodrigues, another demand of the Conference. He for the first time, and using language used in the Conference, accused the British Government of a "crime against humanity" for the forced deportation of the Chagossians. Speaking of the "Marine Protected Area" that the British Government has implemented in Chagos but excluding Diego Garcia, the Prime Minister said, "Diego Garcia houses nuclear submarines, and there are warships there. When a nuclear bomb explodes one day, that's OK by them. War ships are there polluting the sea in the region, that's also OK by them. Then they say they will protect fishes and corals. Fish and coral are more important to them than people. We will not accept this!"

When Alain Ah-Vee was speaking on a Top FM Radio Broadcast on the same day that the Prime Minister was speaking (3 November), it became clear from the phone-in comments that the LALIT Conference's proposal for the Head of State and Prime Minister to go to Chagos on the Trochetia has captured the imagination of the public. Everyone thinks it normal that the representatives of the Government can go to all parts of a State's territory.

The LALIT International Conference lasted four days, and included a National Forum, and saw the participation of just over 200 people, according to the registration figures. The plenary sessions saw rich contributions and profound analyses from the floor, and this made the Conference exceptional.

The former President of the Republic, Mr. Cassam Uteem, in a strongly worded opening speech, called for bold action to complete the de-colonization of the country, to get the base closed down, and to ensure the right to return of all Chagossians to all the Islands of a united Mauritius. "We are not at war with Iraq. We are not at war with Afghanistan," he said, "so our territory cannot be used for acts of war on these countries." He said that the guilty parties were first and foremost, the USA administration. Secondly, their partner, the UK State. There are those who are "accomplices", he added. And he appealed to the President of the Republic, the only surviving eye witness to the pre-Independence Lancaster House talks, to come forward to give testimony. And there are the victims, the people living on the Chagos Islands, forcibly removed, and the Mauritian people, whose territory was illegally broken up prior to Independence.

At the National Forum, Foreign Affairs Minister, Arvind Boolell, said the Government intended to act on the question of the Pelindaba Treaty, and was, in general, to step up political, diplomatic and legal pressures. The Opposition Leader who had originally accepted to speak, later withdrew his acceptation. When invited to send an MMM speaker instead, the leader refused. Lindsey Collen, speaking for LALIT, at the National Forum presided by barrister Jean-Claude Bibi and held in the Municipal Council Chamber in Port Louis, said that the 42 years of the Mauritian State pleading, even begging, for "talks" and "negotiations" had on that very day, 1 November, with the coming into action of the Marine Protected Area, been publicly declared bankrupt. "The strategy will have to change," she said. "It is impossible to continue without attacking the very existence of the military base there," she argued.

Ram Seegobin, speaking for LALIT, on the first day of the International Conference outlined all the huge obstacles and hurdles that need to be addressed during this struggle. Ragini Kistnasamy spoke on the history of the struggle of the Chagossian and Mauritian people against the USA-UK crime, while Rajni Lallah spoke on the important role of women in this struggle. Alain Ah-Vee, LALIT's first speaker, cogently argued for the strategic necessity to maintain all the three elements of the struggle in a coherent articulation, and never to barter any one against any other.

Of the two invited "animateur", Kishore Mundil, who was in Komite Moris Losean Indyen ek Front National Soutien aux Ilois, gave an historic outline of the past struggles, while Pynee Chellarpermal led a group which looked at the imperialist manoeuvres vis-à-vis Islands of the Mauritian Republic, while suggesting different forms of political representation that address these problems.

Guest speakers from abroad included Wilbert van der Zeiden who is experienced in struggles world-wide for base closure, called for using the United Nations De-colonization mechanisms, in addition to mobilization to base closure. He outlined the pressures on the US to close its bases. John Percy, speaking for the Revolutionary Socialist Party of Australia, pointed to the dangers of imperial powers when they are economically weakened but still militarily very strongly, like the US is today. Penny Duggan of the Fourth International spoke of the political and social movements in Europe, particularly in France, as the economic crisis provokes mass uprisings.

Former Vice President of the University of Mauritius, Vinesh Hookoomsing, was the only speaker who was not very forceful at all. He pleaded, amongst other things, for people to be "understanding" of scientists who are interested in protecting "corals". From the floor, Rajni Lallah, challenged him saying the least we can expect from scientists is that they are "in good enough" faith to call for the polluting nuclear base on Chagos to be closed down, given that they love "corals" and "fish" so much, and even though we criticize them for not caring about the people exiled from the Islands, nor the colonization through the illegal British Indian Ocean Territories.

The Conference was given intellectual and emotional depth by outstanding contribution made by artists. Visual artists, Krishna Luchoomun and Gerard Foy and a group of their students, did a creative and moving "event" in the Mother Earth Hall at Grand River, symbolizing the armed forces invasion of Diego Garcia, while Menwar sang in a tough and poignant song that the US should remove all its "kuyonad", and get out. Joelle Hossenee, accompanied by Rajni Lallah, gave a heart-rending performance of "Lamer mo pei" in which the people and the land are torn apart in a song composed by Rajni. Daniella Bastien performed a slam poem, accompanied by her ravann, on a few words on paper, perhaps refering to the Orders in Council. Richard Beaugendre sang two songs in Mauritian Kreol influenced by the best of French protest singers, accompanied by fine guitar work. The intriguing installation out of coconuts, made by Nirmal Hurry and his students, was a continued feature of the Conference, while the painting by Jean-Claude Baissac, "Les Fantomes des Chagos", a gift made to LALIT on the occasion of the Conference, was a constant reminder of the violence done to Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos and its people. Stephanie Theodore and Ashish Beesoondial gave a tender, yet anguished, reading from Lindsey Collen's MUTINY. Three outstanding films, by John Pilger, Peadar King and David Constantin, were viewed, and referred to in plenary sessions. There was also the screening of a "court metrage" by Ryan Kistnasamy, aged eleven, on the 2010 LALIT demonstration against the colonialist "Marine Protected Area". Yannick Jeanne's moving reading of the poem, "A Seed", brought Palestine on to the agenda, as this subject often was during the Conference. The Tai Chi demonstration of "Form 24" by the highly skilled practitioners, Jean France Suprayen and Alain Ah-Vee, posed in art-form the power of concentration and restraint in struggles against oppression; the fact that the two Tai Chi practitioners are from two different Tai Chi schools, meant that their performance was particularly powerful, showing the inner latent strength of each individual and of the collective.

An exhibition on the Diego Garcia and Chagos struggle was prepared on four stands, which were placed on the verandah and in the Kiosk. During tea and coffee breaks, participants studied them in detail.

It must be put on record that both Olivier Bancoult of the Chagos Refugees Group and Fernand Mandarin of the Comite Social Chagossien had formally agreed to speak at the LALIT International Conference. Both were not present, however. Both had mentioned a few days earlier that they had responsibilities concerning a respective relative who was ill, but neither actually presented apologies for his absence.

There were over 30 messages of support from all over the world, witnessing very high degrees of understanding of the issues involved as well as support for the struggles (see list below).

The Conference Declaration, the "Declaration of Grande Riviere" voted on the final day of the Conference includes reference to the need to dismantle the illegal British Indian Ocean Territories, from which the Seychelles has already sucessfully extricated its Islands, the need to for the US to close the base down and effect a clean-up, and the need for the right of return for all Chagossians to all the Islands of their birth, without having to accept being colonized. Specific strategies are proposed to the State of Mauritius, as well as adopted by the participants in the Conference.

Messages of Support from
War Resisters' International, International anti-war organisation founded in 1921
War Resisters Africa working Group, Matt Meyer
Tony Simpson and Ken Fleet for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation.

Steve Bloom for the Anti-War Committee of SOLIDARITY.
Al Marder for the US Peace Council, big US Peace organization.
Dud Hendriks for Veterans for Peace, big US ex-armed forces organization.
Elsa Wiehe, Activist and Teacher in the USA
Terry Moon for News & Letters, left wing organization in the US

Alan Thornett for Socialist Resistance
John Pilger, journalist, writer and film-maker.
Dr Sean Carey -- Research Fellow at Roehampton University and has written on Chagos for the Guardian, New Statesman and New African
Philippa Gregory, novelist in UK
Sylvia Boyes, veteran of the Greenham Common protests 25 years ago, anti-war activist, anti-nuclear campaigner

Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste

Peadar King, film-maker for Irish TV.

Enzo Ciscato for No Dal Molin Movement in Vicenza

Jo Vallentine, Chairperson, for ANAWA (Anti-Nuclear Alliance)
Peter D. Jones, for War Resisters International Australia

New Zealand
Grant Morgan for the Socialist Worker

South Africa
Dale McKinlay for the Anti-Privatization Forum in South Africa.
Gunvant Govindjee, South African peace activist
Frene Ginwala, former Speaker of South African Post-Apartheid Parliament

La Reunion
Jean-Yves Payet for Lutte ouvrière
NPA Reunion

Action Committee against US-Japan Security Pact
Hamamatsu Alliance for Human Rights and Peace
No War -- Peace White Ribbon Kanagawa
Okinawa Awase Bible Church
Peace Link Hiroshima-Kure-Iwakuni
Tachikawa Tent-mura Monitoring Military Base
Citizens to Stop Victimization by Yokota Airbase

(Quotations from the Prime Ministers speech are taken from L'Express and Le Matinal.)