Islanders Lose Case To Return To Homes

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14pm EDT

London ( - A group of Indian Ocean islanders seeking the right to return to their home archipelago have lost their court action to return to their islands, one of which is now the site of a strategic U.S. airbase.

Thousands of Chagos islanders were moved from their homes by the British government to make room for the base in the late 60s and early 70s. They have fought a court battle to return home and were close to victory in 2000 when judges ruled that the U.K. government had unlawfully resettled the islanders.

On Thursday, however, the High Court in London ruled against them and threw out the claim.

Although Justice Duncan Ouseley ruled that some of the islanders "could show that they were treated shamefully by successive U.K. governments," the group as a whole had no right to move back to the islands or claim compensation.

"Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship," he said.

However, the court ruled that the legal claims, dating from when the islanders were resettled on African islands of Mauritius and Seychelles, were out of date and that some key witnesses had deliberately given false statements to the court.

The islanders also have no legal ground to demand the right to return, the judge said.

"Ill-treatment does not require a hopeless case to be allowed to continue. Indeed, to raise false hopes would not be fair," Ouseley ruled.

Military base

More than 1,300 islanders received money from a multi-million dollar settlement with the British government in 1982. The islanders and their descendants now number about 5,000.

The islanders vowed to continue their legal battle and to appeal the High Court decision.

"They will certainly continue their struggle. They are now in a state of shock that there has been no adjudication in their favor," Richard Gifford, a lawyer for the islanders, told reporters.

One of the Chagos Islands is Diego Garcia, site of a U.S. military base. About 1,000 miles southwest of India, it served as a launching pad and refueling base for U.S. strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government holds the island under a lease obtained from Britain.

Several terror suspects have also been held on the island.

The U.S. has not allowed visitors to Diego Garcia, which was home to most of the islanders, though the 2000 ruling opened up some outlying islands and awarded the displaced people U.K. citizenship.

See Previous Story:
Future Of Strategic U.S. Military Base Uncertain After Court Ruling (Nov. 3, 2000)

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