WikiLeaks proof of British ploy to keep Chagos: Mauritius

3rd December 2010, Comments 0 comments

A marine park in the Chagos islands in the Indian Ocean was just a pretext for Britain to stop the islands' inhabitants from returning home, the foreign minister of Mauritius told AFP Friday.

Mauritius, where the Chagossian people were resettled after their eviction in the 1960s and 1970s to make way for a huge US military base on the island of Diego Garcia, also lays claim to the archipelago.

Minister Arvin Boolel was reacting to a leaked US cable in which British officials say the marine park they declared in the islands in April would "put paid to the resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents".

The cables, given to British daily The Guardian by whistleblower site WikiLeaks, quote Colin Roberts, the Foreign Office director of overseas territories, referring to the Chagossians as "Man Fridays".

Roberts tells a US official of the British government's plan to set up the marine park on 55 islands around Diego Garcia, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

"Roberts stated that, according to (his government's) current thinking on a reserve, there would be 'no human footprints' or 'Man Fridays' on the BIOT uninhabited islands," according to the US account of the meeting.

The language echoes that used in 1966 by another senior British official who described the Chagossians as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays".

"We have always insisted that Mauritius' sovereignty rights and the rights of the Chagossians to return to their native islands outweigh Britain's environmental concerns," Boolell said.

"The truth is out. The documents prove that the British used the environment pretext as a moden-day Trojan horse to try to stifle the legitimate claims of Mauritius and the Chagossians," he said.

More than 2,000 islanders were forcibly evicted from their homes.

They have fought to return to Chagos, with one group expecting a ruling on the case from the European Court of Human Rights.

"The Chagos marine park was created to enable Britain to trample the rights of the Chagossians underfoot," said Olivier Bancoult of the Chagos Refugees Group.

"These revelations enable us to see the cynicism of Great Britain," said Herve Lassemillante, a legal advisor to a similar group, the Chagossian Social Committee.

The Chagos Islands were ceded to Britain in 1814. The main island, Diego Garcia, is now populated by an estimated 1,700 US military personnel, 1,500 civilian contractors and around 50 British personnel.

The base played a key role in the 1991 military operation against Iraq.

Mauritius formed part of the same administrative area as the Chagos Islands when it was under British rule.

© 2010 AFP

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