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Diego Garcia and Chagos Issue: LALIT Update


We have pleasure in putting on-line the letter LALIT has sent by e-mail and post to people who support our political work on Diego Garcia - by their letters of support, presence at our meetings and demonstrations, and signatures on petitions.

Dear Friends who supported LALIT on the Diego Garcia military base issues,

The LALIT International Conference to 'Free Diego' seems to have been timed so right and to have been politically so spot on (part through planning, part through past political work, part through sheer luck) as to have been a catalyst to events. So, this is a brief update of the important cascade of events that have taken place since then - less than four months ago.

During our 3-day Conference, you will remember, the Prime Minister announced 3 November would be made 'Chagos Day' and commemorated every year. This was an instant effect.

Also during the actual Conference, the UK’s Marine Protected Area came into force. This was Britain’s perfidious way of claiming soverienty over the Chagos and preventing Chagossians from returning. It provoked the rage of the Mauritian State, with the Prime Minister calling the British State 'hypocrites, liars and cheats'. This discourse, though just discourse, is in sharp contrast with the usual fawning.

Any hope that this Marine Protected Area could have been passed off by the UK Government as its sudden love-affair with 'the environment' and with the ecology movement, faded fast and furiously when Wikileaks decided to publish, in its first batch, cables that are the clear proof that both the UK and US saw the whole 'marine protected area' manoevre as a cynical ploy designed quite brashly to keep the Chagossians and the Mauritian State away from anywhere near the military base, nothing more. The Mauritian Government was more furious.

To make all the political events more dramatic, the leaks came only days before Princess Anne’s visit to Mauritius to mark 200 years since Britain grabbed Mauritius (including Diego Garcia and the whole of Chagos) from France in the Napoleonic Wars. LALIT had organized a protest demonstration, which the Mauritian police formally prohibited. But the issue of the British State having repeatedly resorted to Royal Decrees in order to perpetrate its Diego Garcia crimes in secret was exposed during her visit. See LALIT’s open letter to Princess Anne, which spells out the political and democratic issues. It is on our news archives

Then the Mauritian Government announced it was starting a legal action. This is the very first time since the 1965 illegal theft and occupation of the islands by the British and US that the Mauritian State envisaged action on the Chagos issue. Mauritius has in fact filed a claim under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) against the UK for its Marine Protected Area, even if it is only tangentially claiming sovereignty. LALIT welcomes this Government move, but warns that, taken alone, it can be useless or even counter-productive against so wily an enemy. (See our article in the news archives of LALIT’s website

Then Dr. Arvin Boolell, Minister of Foreign Affairs began to act politically at an international level at the same time. On December 14 at Algiers, at the commemorative meeting to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) for the resolution 1514 (XV) against the illegal dismemberment of a territory. Resolution 1514 (XV) contains the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People. See as 'Note One' (below) for quote from article on his speech.

Then The Prime Minister acted. On 30 and 31 January 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the XVIth African Union Summit, he made a Statement on Diego Garcia and Chagos, and also proposed the Motion to be presented to the next UN General Assembly for approval by the AU first. It was unanimously supported. (See NOTE TWO for whole speech.) The Prime Minister, for the first time, included, in his official delegation to the AU, a Chagossian representative, Olivier Bancoult. This new move symbolises the new importance the Mauritian State is putting on the issue.

On 4 February, Wikileaks sent the Telegraph yet another correspondence between Britain and the US on Diego Garcia. It suggests that the British State was 'cautiously optimistic' that the House of Lords appeal case would swing their way, which it did despite the excellent minority judgment by Lord Bingham. The leak also shows that the British and US intend to 'buy out' the Chagossian leaderships if they win the right to return.

Broader Issues
Two broader issues need to be mentioned: US military strategy for Africa, and popular uprisings in the Mahgreb and the Middle East.
US Africa Command
With the difficulties that the Pengaton has had in setting up its Africa Command, and not managing to get military bases anywhere yet, Diego Garcia has become even more important to their military plans. Probably related to this, there is a new scurry of US activity around the need for more 'security' in Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean. We can expect a lot of propaganda about Somalian fishermen-pirates. We have seen former Chief Editor of the important Mauritian newspaper L’Express Dimanche becoming first a communications strategist for the U.S. Central Command/Combined Joint Task Force project in the Horn of Africa and then for the US Defense Department-run' Africa Centre for Strategic Studies'. We have seen the formation of a supposed 'Civil Society' group in Mauritius including Government men, mostly but not all police officers, together with Madagascan and Seychelles military/coast guard personel, which is calling for better 'security' in the region.
Mahgreb & Middle East
At the same time, all kinds of popular uprisings have been taking place well nigh simultaneously in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Algeria, while new Hezbollah Government is expected any day now in the Lebanon. These events all have the potential to change the balance of forces considerably, once again proving that mass human political action has power. It also reminds us that the power that such mass actions have depends on previously prepared grass-roots political organization and program-construction.

Good to be in touch with you again. And once again we express our appreciation for your continued political support.
Greetings from all at LALIT in Mauritius,
Ragini Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen.

Note ONE: Quote from Remembering the Algiers Declaration by Political Affairs on Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Arvin Boolell, the foreign minister of Mauritius, drew the attention of the participants to continuing illegal occupation of the Chagos island chain in the Indian Ocean and the use of the Diego Garcia military base located there for waging war and for nuclear activities. The colonial power, Great Britain, without the consent of Mauritius government, had leased the Diego Garcia base to the US. The military base is crucial to the ongoing American military campaign of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. In case there is a military attack on Iran, Diego Garcia with its strategic location in the Indian Ocean will be an important forward base for the US. Boolell said that the latest WikiLeaks data revealed that one of the islands in the Chagos chain was earmarked for nuclear experiments by the US. He also pointed out that the islands were also used for rendition activities by the Bush administration. Boolell called for a diplomatic war to be waged and a common front to be forged against the imperial powers that still hold sway over large chunks of the developing world.'

Note TWO: Statement by Dr the Hon Prime Minister on Peace and Security in Africa at the African Union Summit in January 2011
at Addis Ababa - Source

' ...
'Mr President,
With your permission, I would like now to turn to the issue of the Chagos Archipelago. This is an issue of vital importance to my Government, and to all Mauritians and particularly those who were forcibly removed from these islands. One of the members of my delegation is Mr Olivier Bancoult, a prominent leader of the Mauritian Chagossian community. Mr Bancoult with thousands others were inhumanly expelled from the Chagos.

Mr President,
The Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, was unlawfully excised by the United Kingdom from the territory of Mauritius prior to the independence of Mauritius, in violation of UN Resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 and 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965 which prohibit colonial powers from dismembering colonial territories prior to granting independence.

We are grateful to the African Union and all our African brothers and sisters for having continuously supported us with regard to the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos Archipelago and upheld our cause at the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in the past.

At the 15th Ordinary Session of the Assembly last July in Kampala, the African Union and all its Member States reaffirmed that the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, forms an integral part of the territory of the Republic of Mauritius and called upon the United Kingdom to expeditiously put an end to its continued unlawful occupation of the Chagos Archipelago and allow Mauritius to effectively exercise its sovereignty over the Archipelago.

However, this call remains unanswered as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1514(XV). The Chagos Archipelago is still under the control of the former colonial power.

Mr President,
Notwithstanding the position taken earlier by the African Union and the strong opposition expressed by the Republic of Mauritius, the United Kingdom unilaterally proceeded to establish a ‘marine protected area’ around the Chagos Archipelago on 1 November 2010 in a manner that was inconsistent with its international legal obligations, thereby further impeding the exercise by the Republic of Mauritius of its sovereignty over the Archipelago. In the wake of this most regrettable and shameful development, Mauritius initiated proceedings on 20 December 2010 against the UK under Article 287 and Annex VII of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to challenge the legality of the purported ‘marine protected area’.

At our last Summit, I had indicated that if the bilateral discussions between Mauritius and the UK do not result in the desired outcome, Mauritius would engage in the UN process to seek redress and justice. Since the discussions have not yielded any acceptable outcome and to add insult to injury, the UK Government has now proceeded with the establishment of a ‘marine protected area’, Mauritius proposes to initiate action at the United Nations General Assembly in pursuance of its legitimate aspiration to effectively exercise its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago.

In this regard, we expect your valuable support in attaining our legitimate objectives and look forward to the adoption of the Draft Decision which has been put on the table.

I thank you for your attention.'