From Fri Aug 25 17:15:09 2000
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2000 23:27:43 -0500 (CDT)
From: MichaelP <>
Subject: Diego Garcia islanders' fight with UK
Article: 103378
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

FO report backs exiled islanders' fight with UK

By Ewen MacAskill and Rob Evans, Guardian (London), Thursday 24 August 2000

Diego Garcia US Military Sealift Command

The unsavoury saga of the British treatment of the Diego Garcia islanders took a new twist yesterday when an unpublished report commissioned by the Foreign Office supported their case to return home.

The feasibility report severely undermines the position taken by the Foreign Office, which is fighting a high court action by the islanders, who were forced from the Indian ocean territory in 1973 in order to make way for a US air and naval base.

The report, commissioned from independent consultants by the Foreign Office in March and completed in June, concludes that resettlement of one or both of the atolls is physically possible.

That 123-page document, instead of being published, was buried in the House of Commons library at the end of July, just as MPs were disappearing for the summer recess.

In July the islanders brought an action in the high court in London, demanding to be allowed to return to two islands neighbouring Diego Garcia: Salomons and Peros Banhos.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said yesterday she was unable to comment as the issue was still sub judice. Following a week of hearings in July, a court judgment is expected early in October.

Richard Gifford, the lawyer for the islanders, described the Foreign Office's attempt to obstruct the islanders from returning as nonsense. We are not just talking about populating islands but repopulating them. There were lots of people living there before.

Most of the islanders were resettled on Mauritius and the remainder in the Seychelles, but both groups have had difficulty in assimilating. The Foreign Office is sceptical about how many would want to return but Mr Gifford said that of 3,800 people who responded to a questionnaire in Mauritius, only one did not want to return. A further 500 exiles live in the Seychelles.

He described the report as a first step to implementing a return, adding: The Foreign Office is obviously very cagey about costs but essentially it is quite possible.

The foreign secretary, Robin Cook, and his ministers are believed to be uncomfortable with the issue given the islands' disreputable colonial history. But they believe that they have to deal with the world as it is, rather than as it was.

The islands are among only a dozen overseas territories controlled by Britain, the remnants of the empire.

The Foreign Office is in a bind because it has leased the islands to the US for 50 years, with an option of extending. Although the base—used by B52 bombers during the Gulf war—is on Diego Garcia, the US says it does not want people on the neighbouring islands for security reasons.

The Foreign Office is also arguing that, after being uninhabited for 30 years, there are feasibility problems about resettlement. This is why it ordered the independent report.

The report, The Resettlement of the Salomons and Peros Banhos Atolls, was written by five consultants: an environmentalist, an economist, a fisheries expert, a water engineer and a natural resources expert.

They went to the islands from May 9- 14. The main concerns were whether there was a proper water supply, whether the necessary infrastructure could be built and the prospects for a viable economy.

The consultants concluded resettlement was possible, provided various conditions were met. These included confirmation that a sustainable and affordable water supply can be developed. They found fresh water but further studies would be needed to determine if there was enough. They said alternative ways of supplying water could be found.

Other conditions were: that the environment was not damaged; that public money was available to finance infrastructure; and that one or more private investors were willing to develop viable enterprises.

The report suggested various proposals for generating economic activity, including tourism. There is some potential for low-level tourist-based development, even if an airport is not built.

This could include offering services to visiting diving safaris and yachtsmen. However, this would provide only a small number of jobs.

Fisheries development appears to be the best potential to support a settled population, the report said. If the owner of a mother vessel in Mauritius was to switch operations to the islands, direct employment could be provided for up to 60 fishermen. Support services would provide further jobs.