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London to Keep Thousands From Returning Home to Island Occupied by US Air Base

© Flickr / Foreign and Commonwealth Office West Island, part of Diego Garcia group
West Island, part of Diego Garcia group - Sputnik International
Residents of the Chagos islands, a former British colony in the Indian Ocean, have been denied permission to return to their homeland, as the British government announced Wednesday that it will prolong its lease of the largest of the tropical archipelago, Diego Garcia, to the US until 2036.

The Chagossians were forced to leave between 1967 and 1973, after the UK leased the island of Diego Garcia to the US so that it could be turned into an airbase. Some 5,000 residents have been scattered around the world, with about 3,000 placed in Britain.

Allen Vincatassin, president of the provisional government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos islands, said he was "very disappointed" with the decision of the British government to reject the return of the Chagossians.

"We will have to continue to press the government for a return because it's our homeland, we've been evicted from it, and we spent about 50 years in exile," he told Sputnik. "Our life has been wrecked, our destiny has been wrecked, but we will continue to pursue our right of return."

Vincatassin said that residents were deported to Mauritius without housing, jobs or other provisions. "We had to fend for ourselves in a new country," he stated. "Our fate was already concluded by the decision-makers. We had nothing."

Diego Garcia - Sputnik International
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The UK government has offered monetary compensation to the islanders. Vincatassin said they would welcome the £40m ($50 million) package necessary for supporting the community, but noted that the money has nothing to do with their right to return to their homeland.

The island of Diego Garcia serves as a key strategic base in the Indian Ocean supporting US military operations from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. The territory was also allegedly used for the purposes of torture. Vincatassin has insisted that such a practice "should not happen again."

Chagossians have for years been fighting for their right to return to their homes. The British government, according to the islanders, has denied that right "on the grounds of feasibility, defense and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer," according to ABC News.

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