Exile of Chagossians for Marine Reserve

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Leading conservation groups have condemned the government’s “huge violation” of the rights of thousands of exiled Chagossian islanders who cannot return to their Indian ocean coral islands because they have been surrounded by the world’s largest marine nature reserve.

Proposals by the foreign secretary David Miliband Britain in 2008 for the creation of a giant 1m ha marine protection zone closed to all fishing around the almost pristine tropical archipelago were backed enthusiastically by nine of the world’s major green groups, including Kew Gardens, the RSPB, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment group, the Zoological Society of London and the Marine Conservation Society. Together they asked supporters to back the Foreign Office proposal for the reserve and raised over 275,000 signatures. The park was finally established in 2010.

But diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks in 2011 suggested that Britain and the US lured the environment groups with the offer of the reserve and then used its ban on fishing to ensure that no Chagossian would ever be able to live within hundreds of miles of Diego Garcia. This, the largest island in the Chagos archipelago, was cleared by Britain of 1,500 native people in 1964 when it leased the island to the US for a massive military base.

Even if the Chagossians won the legal right to return, they might be unable to live on the islands if they were not allowed to fish.

The apparent hoodwinking of the conservationists seemed to be confirmed by the US diplomatic cable dated May 2009. A British Foreign Office official told the US government that the decision to set up the reserve would “effectively put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago’s former residents”.

In further revelations this month, British archives disclosed how the Foreign Office noted in 1966: “The object of the exercise is to get some rocks which will remain ours [