The Chagos Islands - an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, halfway Africa and Indonesia. Colonised by French plantation operators, populated by slaves taken from other French island colonies in the Indian Ocean. In 1804 conquered by the British who abolished slavery. Plantations and workers however stayed.
And then the government of the United States of America decided that the archipelago was of high strategic value and wanted to have the natural harbour of the main island, Diego Garcia, as a navy base - condition was that there should be no human beings snooping around.
The islands were detached from the original main island colony, Mauritius, were not given independence and the British government decreed that the population of slave descendants was really an itinerant worker community.Plantations were nationalised and immediately closed down. The islanders were deported, the US navy and air force moved in (1973).
In the so-called war on terror the islands are used as a prison and torture camp under the incredible code name of Footprint of Freedom.
Although the indigenous people won their court cases against their deportation they are still being denied the right of return. Nowadays, the risk of climate change is the main story why the islands should not be populated. A continuing sad story.
A major conservation row is developing over proposals for Britain to establish the biggest and most unspoiled marine nature reserve in the world. The issue of the Chagos Islands raises the increasingly difficult question of how to weigh up the protection of the best remaining parts of nature, in a rapidly degrading world, against the needs and rights of people.
The Hawks bill turtle is critically endangered. (ALAMY)
It concerns the Chagos Archipelago in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a group of isolated coral islands teeming with wildlife which is considered to be among the least polluted marine locations on Earth. Its seawater is the cleanest ever tested; its coral reefs are completely unspoiled; its whole ecosystem, with its countless seabirds, turtles, coconut-cracking crabs (the world's largest), dolphins, sharks and nearly 1,000 other species of fish, is pristine.
Officially British Indian Ocean Territory, the islands are the subject of an ambitious plan by conservationists - backed by the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband - to keep them the way they are, by creating a marine protected area, where fishing and all other exploitation would be banned, of 210,000 square miles - more than twice the land surface of Great Britain. In an age when the oceans and their biodiversity are being ever more despoiled, it would be a supreme example of marine conservation and one of the wildlife wonders of the world - in effect, Britain's Great Barrier Reef, or Britain's Galapagos.
The plan excites many wildlife enthusiasts and has the formal support of several of Britain's major conservation bodies, from the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew and the Zoological Society of London to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The backing of the Foreign Office and the Foreign Secretary is significant. A public consultation on the plan ends on Friday.
But there is a notable omission from the plan. It takes no account of the wishes of the original inhabitants, the Chagossians - the 1,500 people living on the islands who, between 1967 and 1973, were deported wholesale by Britain, so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be used by the US as an airbase for strategic nuclear bombers.
Suspected Black Site
United States Navy
Diego Garcia is the largest and most southerly of the six main island groups that comprise the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 3,000 miles South of Iraq.
A Human Rights First report, Ending Secret Detentions, June 2004 [Deborah Pearlstein and Michael Posner. Available online at www.HumanRightsFirst.org] refers to detention facilities maintained by the US in various undisclosed locations including facilities in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, US war ships and Diego Garcia. The report states that denials by US and British Officials contradict repeated press reports that at least some individuals, including Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin) have been detained on Diego Garcia. Press reports referred to include several by Dana Priest, writing for The Washington Post. A December 2002 article [US Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogation. Available at www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A37943-2002Dec25] refers to the use of Diego Garcia as a secret overseas detention centre. Similar comments are made by Mark Seddon writing for The Independent in December 2003 [The Independent December 13th 3003: Is There Another Guantanamo Bay on British Soil?] and referring to a Time Magazine article from October 2003 [The terrorist talks].