'I remember clearly, we were told simply we could not go back'

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The Independent Online

Many times during his long legal battle to get justice, Louis Olivier Bancoult had been told that he had no chance against the might of the British Government. And the Government, knowing the political ramifications of a defeat, used its formidable resources to try to block him at every opportunity.

Many times during his long legal battle to get justice, Louis Olivier Bancoult had been told that he had no chance against the might of the British Government. And the Government, knowing the political ramifications of a defeat, used its formidable resources to try to block him at every opportunity.

But Mr Bancoult is used to adversity. He was four years old when his family, who had left their home on Paros Bahnos to go to Mauritius for medical treatment, were told they could not return home to the Chagos islands, which were to be used for a US military base.

"I remember it as if it is today," he recalls. "My mother was crying because she was very sad about our beautiful country and the life we used to live. Her brother and father were left in the Chagos as were all her belongings.

"We were told simply that we could not go back. I used to cry for a drum, called a revane, which had been given to me by my grandfather." His mother, Rita, remembered: "It was hard for us all. I had nine children and I had to get a job as a servant. There was never enough - sometimes the only food we had was old bread cooked with sugar."

For the next 33 years, Mr Bancoult learnt more than he could ever want to about the perfidy of British governments who had misled the UN and Parliament about what they had done. In the meantime, his people, the Ilois, lived in confusion and poverty, unaccepted by the Mauritians.

For the majority it was a culture shock. Many were not used to a money economy or the constrictions of having to exist in cramped urban conditions. Many did not survive, including two of Mr Bancoult's brothers, one an alcoholic, the other a drug addict.

Mr Bancoult said: "I think the persons responsible for that are the British government. They were the ones responsible for what happened and I felt we must to do something about making them accountable and getting home."

So Mr Bancoult, 37, who holds a British passport, began his action with London solicitor Richard Gifford, acting for him on legal aid. Yesterday, after his victory, Mr Bancoult said: "It is a great feeling. But I must remember all those who died, all those who suffered."