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LALIT Communique on Diego Garcia


LALIT notes with deep concern that the British government last week announced that it has passed Orders in Council now prohibiting access to all the Islands of Chagos. This effectively bans people from Chagos from visiting their own birthplace. The right to return to Chagos had been won in an important High Court case decided by the Law Lords in the year 2000. Immediately after this legal victory, an Order in Council was passed denying access to the main island of Chagos, Diego Garcia, where there is the huge US military base. LALIT and the Chagos Refugee Group have been gathering nation-wide and world-wide support for a Peace Flotilla to all the Chagos Islands.

This new outrageous British action of denying access to the whole of Chagos comes at a time when the Chagossians had planned a boat trip to Chagos for July, and were negotiating with owners of vessels. LALIT and the Chagos Refugees Group are continuing our work towards a flotilla to take the people of Diego Garcia and the Chagos back to their islands. The trip to the Chagos takes two or three days. Having access to Chagos, after the High Court judgement of 2000, even after the Order in Council of 2000 putting Diego Garcia out of bounds, meant that going there by boat was perfectly legal. Now, all the Islands have been declared out of bounds. This complicates the flotilla trip a bit.

The Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Bérenger is furious with the British Government and is now, at long last, finally threatening to go The International Court at The Hague in order to challenge the British illegal dismemberment of Mauritius.

The politics of the Mauritian State of using the Diego Garcia issue as a means of putting pressure on the UK and USA for trade benefits has finally backfired badly. Paul Bérenger's opportunistic attempt to separate the issue he calls the "sovereignty issue" from the question of the military base and of the right to return has finally turned out to be totally politically bankrupt.

And it is not the first time that Paul Berenger and the Mauritian State's unprincipled strategy rebounds like this. In June 1990, the Mauritian Government treacherously withdrew the motion it had put before the UN General Assembly on Chagos, preferring to separate the issue of sovereignty from the issue of militarization, on the one hand, and the right of the Chagossians to return, on the other. But the British State called the bluff of the Mauritian Government, even then, and on 7th August, 1991, extended British control to 200 miles around Chagos, claiming exclusive sea rights.

Similarly, in 1993 when the Mauritian government announced in the UN that it had "meaningful dialogue" with the British, while negotiating a new fishing agreement, in January 1994 the Agreement to set up the British/Mauritian Fisheries Commission. Thus the Mauritian State ended up signing something which called Chagos the "British Indian Ocean Territory", something the Mauritian State does not recognize.

Once again history is teaching us that each time the political parties in power, for opportunistic reasons, embark on their strategy of separating different aspects of the Chagos question into different compartments so as to try to wrangle just "sovereignty", they end up losing out on all three inter-related issues: sovereignty itself, the closing down of the hideous military base, and the right of return with reparations for Chagossians.

LALIT has always maintained that keeping these issues unified into a single strategy is the only way to win any one of them. We have been proven right on this.

LALIT calls on the Prime Minister to go ahead with the procedure for putting a case against Britain at The Hague. Paul Bérenger should also once and for all take a principled stand and go ahead and at long last put the issue of Chagos on the agenda of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

We also note with concern that no country in the world (except the USA) recognizes the British Indian Ocean Territories, which constitutes no more than a fiction for failing to decolonize. It is what is left of a scandalous theft from Mauritius and Seychelles in the 1960's. We point out that the Seychelles re-claimed its islands back out of the BIOT, through negotiations.

It becomes more important than ever that we all call for the closure of this military base. The Mauritian government should give the USA and UK notice to close down the military base, and return the whole of Chagos to the people of the islands. This way we can move towards the re-unification of Mauritius.

It is even more important today, now that we know that Diego Garcia military base, and the sea around Diego Garcia, is now known to be used for keeping prisoners. Diego Garcia is one of the "unspecified locations" used for prisoners and for "rendition" of prisoners. We, in Mauritius, object to all these hideous infringements of human rights being perpetrated on our land.

Alain Ah-Vee
21st June, 2004