Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Islanders' attempt to return home to Diego Garcia foiled


The islanders of Diego Garcia suffered a fresh setback on Friday when the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is to appeal against a high court ruling that would have allowed them to return to their Indian Ocean homes.

The entire population of about 2,000 were tricked out of their homes in the 1960s and 1970s by the British government to make way for the US airbase on Diego Garcia, which has been used for bombing Iraq and Afghanistan.

The islanders have won two legal cases in London, in 2000 and again in May, that have criticized the government's behavior and recognized their right to go home.

Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Cresswell, in their ruling in May, described as "repugnant" the government's decision to depopulate the islands by stealth.

The foreign affairs ministry has been under pressure from the US government not to allow the islanders to return to Diego Garcia or its surrounding islands, citing security risks to its base.

Lawyers sympathetic to the islanders said the UK government's chances are slim given that the High Court has twice ruled in favor of the islanders.

Olivier Bancoult, the islanders' leader, said: "I am extremely disappointed that the British government has missed this golden opportunity to give justice back to the people."

In another setback to the islanders, a group of children of Chagos islanders living in Britain failed in a High Court claim on Friday that they were treated unfairly when they were refused job- eeker's allowance and housing to help them start new lives.

All are British citizens and entitled to live in Britain. Lawyers argued they should not be subjected to the habitual residence test because of their close historical ties with the UK.

The displacement from their homeland "cannot fail to evoke the greatest sympathy", he said, but the government's refusal was not disproportionate, the judge wrote in his verdict.

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