Islanders demand return to homeland

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A group of islanders evacuated nearly 40 years ago to make way for a US military base renewed their bid to return home yesterday by accusing Britain of illegally extending their exile.

Representatives of the Chagos islanders went to the High Court in London to overturn a "shameful" order, imposed by ministers last year under arcane rules which by-pass Parliament.

More than 2,000 people were cleared from the archipelago to construct a US air and naval base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, at the height of the Cold War. In 2000, the High Court ruled that the islanders should be allowed to return, but in June last year the Foreign Office obtained "Orders in Council", a little-known procedure normally used for regulating professional bodies, to restore the ban.

The Chagossians were yesterday seeking leave for a judicial review. If successful, they will ask for a new ruling that the Orders in Council are illegal and their human rights have been infringed by their continued exile.

The High Court hearing, attended by some of the 800 Chagossians who have now come to live in Britain, is expected to last five days. A ruling will be delivered at a later date.