Court ruling backs islanders displaced to build military base

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The Independent Online

Indian Ocean islanders who were moved to make way for the US military base at Diego Garcia have won a historic High Court battle with the British Government to return to their homeland.

Indian Ocean islanders who were moved to make way for the US military base at Diego Garcia have won a historic High Court battle with the British Government to return to their homeland.

Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Gibbs ruled there had been "an abject legal failure" and overturned a 1971 ordinance which banned the Chagos islanders, or Ilois, from returning to their land.

It was a stunning victory for Louis Bancoult, 37, chairman of the Chagos Refugee Group in Mauritius, who brought the court action. He claimed he and hundreds of others were exiled and impoverished when they were removed to make way for the base.

"The government will now have to come up with a lawful policy in the light of the judges' findings," said Richard Gifford, an attorney for the islanders.

Following the judgment, the judges began discussions with attorneys about how the judgment would be implemented.

Britain leased the island, halfway between Africa and southeast Asia and part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, to the United States, and in 1971 barred anyone from entering the islands except by permit.

The islanders argued that as British subjects, they have the right to return home.

The Foreign Office has said Britain had arranged for Ilois community members to visit the island and assess the current condition.

"We are taking the advice of consultants to assess whether people could return to the outer islands and what the environmental impact would be. Their work is not complete and we are asking them to continue it," according to the statement in July.

The entire population of the Chagos archipelago - 2,000 people according to the islanders, but only 1,000 according to the British government - was relocated between 1967 and 1973. A few were sent to the Seychelles, but most were shipped to Mauritius - both island nations off Africa's east coast.

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