What's happening in Diego Garcia right now?

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

Here's an aspect of the terrible events in the Indian Ocean that no-one seems to have looked into yet:

What happened to the joint British – American naval base on Diego Garcia?

Diego Garcia is an island in the British Indian Ocean Territory, which is a bit south of the Maldives and therefore very much in the firing line of the tsunami. The entire territory is officially uninhabited, because Britain evicted the islanders in order to secure the naval base when it allowed the Americans in to share it. The islanders are still fighting through the courts to get their land back, or the very least to be allowed back to visit family graves.

There's also an itinerant population of westerners in yachts who've dropped out of mainstream society and now cruise the Pacific and Indian Oceans, growing fresh vegetables on their foredecks and using the internet to ensure their children get educations. They often moor in the north of the Territory, as far away from Diego Garcia as possible – if they stray too close the Navy comes rushing out to chase them away again. What's happened to them?

The base itself is hugely important strategically, and played an important part in the Gulf War and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably it's still relevant to the ongoing operations there. And now it's probably under water.

Worth an investigation, I should think.

Here's some links:

WorldAtlas.com

Maps / facts and figures. Beware pop-ups

Infoplease.com

Potted history / information on the islands

UK Chagos Support Association

Campaigning group for the dispossessed islanders

US Navy official site

Official web site of the United States Navy Support Facility, Diego Garcia

And TV's Ben Fogle, in his amusing book The Teatime Islands, tried to visit there. He wrote:

“I was on my way to one of the most secretive places in the world, a place 'not even the Prime Minister can visit'…
“A thriving people once lived here, working the earth and enjoying their land. They worked in the little copra factory and played cards in their little thatched houses… I had been impressed by the initiative and resourcefulness of the floating community that had filled the void and horrified at the prospect of B52 bombers setting off from this peaceful island chain on their way to drop another payload onto another shell-shocked population.
“'You know they've got nuclear bombs there,' explained Tam Dalyell on the phone when I called to ask him about the present situation with BIOT.
“The British Indian Ocean Territories may look like paradise but for the Ilios they are a paradise lost.”

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.