UK to block Diego Garcia islanders, evicted '66-73, from ever returning home

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More than three decades after British islands in the Indian Ocean were depopulated to make way for an American base, the Government will ask the courts today to ban the inhabitants from ever returning home.

The Chagos Islands, forming the British Indian Ocean Territory, are one of the world's most isolated archipelagos, found some 2,200 miles east of Mombasa on the Kenyan coast.

At America's request, Britain cleared the islands of all 2,000 of their inhabitants –- referred to by one Foreign Office diplomat as "Tarzans and Men Fridays" –- between 1966 and 1973. After this, a US naval and air base was constructed on the biggest island, Diego Garcia.

The High Court has twice given the islanders, known as the Chagossians, the right to return and Britain had initially accepted the ruling when the islanders won their first case in 2000...But after the terrorist attacks on September 11, this policy was abruptly reversed.

But today the Government will try and overturn a second ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Bombers operating from Diego Garcia can strike deep into the Middle East and South Asia. Naval vessels using its harbour can patrol the strategically vital waters of the Indian Ocean and the approaches to the Red Sea. Diego Garcia was a crucial launching pad for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Some 1,000 American and 40 British military personnel are based there.

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