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UK says Chagos islanders evicted for US base may not go home

Associated Press Associated Press 17/11/2016 By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press
FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 file photo, Chagos Islander Olivier Bancoult holds up a judgment paper at the start of a news conference inside the Houses of Parliament in London, after a court ruling decided Chagos Islanders are not allowed to return to their homeland. Indian Ocean islanders who were forced from their homes decades ago to make way for a U.S. military base will not be allowed to return, the British government has announced. Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the tropical Chagos archipelago, a British colony, in the 1960s and 1970s so the U.S. military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. The British government announced Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016 that it will continue to lease Diego Garcia to the U.S. until 2036. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008 file photo, Chagos Islander Olivier Bancoult holds up a judgment paper at the start of a news conference inside the Houses of Parliament in London, after a court ruling decided Chagos Islanders are not allowed to return to their homeland. Indian Ocean islanders who were forced from their homes decades ago to make way for a U.S. military base will not be allowed to return, the British government has announced. Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the tropical Chagos archipelago, a British colony, in the 1960s and 1970s so the U.S. military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands. The British government announced Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016 that it will continue to lease Diego Garcia to the U.S. until 2036. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

LONDON — Indian Ocean islanders who were forced from their homes decades ago to make way for a U.S. military base have been told by the British government that they can never return.

Britain evicted about 2,000 people from the tropical Chagos archipelago, a British colony, in the 1960s and 1970s so the U.S. military could build an air base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands.

The islanders were sent to the Seychelles and Mauritius, two island nations off Africa's east coast, and many eventually resettled in the U.K.

The Chagossians have fought in British courts for years to return to the islands. In June, the Supreme Court rejected their most recent appeal.

The British government announced Wednesday that it will continue to lease Diego Garcia to the U.S. until 2036. It said it has decided against letting the islanders return "on the grounds of feasibility, defense and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer."

Foreign Office Minister Joyce Anelay said it would be impractical to set up "a small remote community on low-lying islands."

The government promised 40 million pounds ($50 million) in compensation to the displaced islanders.

Foreign Minister Alan Duncan told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Thursday that Britain had apologized for the original expulsion, but that the decision to bar the islanders' return was final.

Scottish National Party lawmaker Peter Grant branded it "a return to the days of the arrogant colonial Britain that should have been consigned to the dust bin of history 100 years ago."

Conservative lawmaker Andrew Rosindell said the decision had caused "shock, anger and dismay" among islanders.

"These are British subjects, and they are entitled to the same rights and freedoms and self-determination that all British citizens should have," Rosindell said.

The eviction of the islanders from their home halfway between Africa and Southeast Asia has long been controversial for Britain. U.K. authorities have expressed regret for the treatment of the islanders, but successive governments have blocked their attempts to return.

The key obstacle is the strategically important Diego Garcia base, which has supported U.S. military operations from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the U.S. acknowledged it also had been used for clandestine rendition flights of terrorist suspects.

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