Monday 31 May 2010

Chagos islanders must be allowed home

Sean Casey in The Guardian:

It was very crafty of David Miliband to instruct the commissioner of the British Indian Ocean Territory to declare a marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago on the afternoon of Maundy Thursday, 1 April. It wasn't quite a Jo Moore "it's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury" moment, but it came fairly close.

It certainly wrong-footed a significant number of British MPs from all the major parties who had attended a debate on the Chagos islands in Westminster Hall on 10 March and were given the impression that the issue would be discussed in the Commons before any decision was made. The displeasure caused sparked emergency debates in both houses on 6 April, shortly before dissolution.

It is also revealing that the former foreign secretary's announcement was timed to catch out the authorities in Mauritius where, because the National Assembly had been dissolved in preparation for the general election on 5 May, there was no time for a parliamentary debate or statement.
Further reading.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Africa, new target of US imperialism

Rather to my amazement very recently carried this piece from Zabalaza, South African "platformist"-anarchist journal with which I used to be in touch. Chagos is mentioned in passing but the whole article seems important enough to be placed here.

Michael Schmidt

Former colonial power, France, has maintained the largest foreign military presence in Africa since most countries attained sovereignty in the 1950s and 1960s. While France reduced its armed presence on the continent by two thirds at the end of the last century, it continues to intervene in a muscular and controversial fashion. For example, under a 1961 'mutual defence' pact, French forces were allowed to be permanently stationed in Ivory Coast and the 500-strong 43rd Marine Infantry Battalion is still based at Port Bouet next to the Abidjan airport.

When the civil war erupted in Ivory Coast in September 2002, France added a 'stabilisation force', now numbering some 4,000 under Operation Licorne, which was augmented in 2003 by 1,500 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) 'peacekeepers' drawn from Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Togo and Nigeria. In January 2006, the United Nations extended the mandate of Operation Licorne until December 2006.

Piggybacking off the French military presence in Africa, however, are a series of new foreign military and policing initiatives by the United States and the European Union. It appears that the US has devised a new 'Monroe Doctrine' for Africa (the term has become a synonym for the doctrine of US interventions in what it saw as its Latin American 'back yard').

Under the George W. Bush regime's War on Terror doctrine, the US has designated a swathe of territory - curving across the globe from Colombia and Venezuela in South America, through Africa's Maghreb, Sahara and Sahel regions, and into the Middle East and Central Asia - as the 'arc of instability', where both real and supposed terrorists may find refuge and training.

In Africa, which falls under the US military's European Command (EUCOM), the US has struck agreements with France to share its military bases. For example, there is now a US marine corps base in Djibouti at the French base of Camp Lemonier. More than 1,800 marines are stationed there, allegedly for 'counter-terrorism' operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and East Africa, as well as for controlling the Red Sea shipping lanes.

But the US presence involves more than piggybacking off French bases. In 2003, US intelligence operatives began training spies for four unnamed North African countries. These are believed to be Morocco and Egypt and perhaps also Algeria and Tunisia.

It is also conducting training of the armed forces of countries such as Chad. In September 2005, Bush told the United Nations Security Council that the US would train 40,000 'African peace-keepers' to 'preserve justice and order in Africa', over the following five years. The US Embassy in Pretoria said, at the time, that the US had already trained 20,000 'peace-keepers' in 12 African countries in the use of 'non-lethal equipment'.

And now, while the US is downscaling and dismantling military bases in Germany and South Korea, it is relocating these military resources to Africa and the Middle East in order to 'combat terrorism' and 'protect oil resources'.

In Africa, new US bases are being built in Djibouti, Uganda, Senegal, and São Tomé & Prí­ncipe. These 'jumping-off points' will station small, permanent forces, but with the ability to launch major regional military adventures, according to the US-based Associated Press. An existing US base at Entebbe in Uganda, under the one-party regime of US ally Yoweri Museveni, already 'covers' East Africa and the Great Lakes region. In Dakar, Senegal, the US is busy upgrading an airfield.


Governments with whom the US has concluded military pacts with include Gabon, Mauritania, Rwanda, Guinea and South Africa. The US also has a 'second Guantanamo' in the Indian Ocean, where alleged terror suspects who are kidnapped in Africa, the Middle East or Asia can be detained and interrogated without trial. This 'second Guantanamo' comprises of a detention camp, refueling point and bomber base situated on the British-colonised Chagos Archipelago island of Diego Garcia, an island from which the indigenous inhabitants were forcibly removed to Mauritius.

In South Africa's case, while it is unlikely that there will ever be US bases established - the strength of South Africa's own military, SANDF, makes this unnecessary - in 2005, the country quietly signed on to the US's Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) programme, which is aimed at integrating African armed forces into US strategic (imperialist) objectives.

South Africa, by signing on to ACOTA as the 13th African member, effectively joined the American War on Terror. ACOTA started life as a 'humanitarian' programme run by EUCOM out of Stuttgart, Germany, in 1996. After the 9/11 attacks, however, the Pentagon reorganised ACOTA and gave it more teeth.

Today, ACOTA's makeup is more obviously aggressive than defensive. According to journalist Pierre Abromovici - writing, in the July 2004 edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, about rumours that South Africa was preparing to sign ACOTA a full year before it did so - 'ACOTA includes offensive training, particularly for regular infantry units and small units modelled on special forces... In Washington, the talk is no longer of non-lethal weapons... the emphasis is on "offensive" co-operation'.

The real nature of ACOTA is perhaps indicated by the career of the man heading it up, Colonel Nestor Pino-Marina. He is, according to Abromovici, 'a Cuban exile who took part in the 1961 failed US landing in the Bay of Pigs... He is also a former special forces officer who served in Vietnam and Laos. During the Reagan era he belonged to the Inter-American Defence Board, and, in the 1960s, he took part in clandestine operations against the Sandanistas. He was accused of involvement in drug-trafficking to fund arms sent to Central America' to prop up pro-Washington right-wing dictatorships.

Clearly, Pino-Marina is a fervent 'anti-communist' - whether that means opposing rebellious states or popular insurrections. He also sits on the executive of a strange outfit within the US military called the Cuban-American Military council, which aims at installing itself as the government of Cuba should the US ever achieve a forcible 'regime-change' there.

The career of the US ambassador, Jendayi Fraser, who concluded the ACOTA pact with South Africa is also an indicator of US intentions. Fraser, Bush's senior advisor on Africa, had no diplomatic experience. Instead, she once served as a politico-military planner with the joint chiefs of staff in the Department of Defence and as senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council. According to Fraser's online biography, she 'worked on African security issues with the State Department's international military education training programmes'.


The programmes that Fraser mentions include the 'Next Generation of African Military Leaders' course run by the shady African Centre for Strategic Studies based in Washington, which has 'chapters' in various African countries including South Africa. The Centre appears to be a sort of 'School of the Africas' similar to the infamous 'School of the Americas' based at Fort Benning in Georgia. In 2001, it was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

Founded in 1946 in Panama, the School of the Americas has trained some 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including notorious neo-Nazi Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, infamous Panamanian dictator and drug czar Manuel Noriega, Argentine dictators Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola whose regime murdered 30,000 people between 1976 and 1983, numerous death-squad killers, and Efrain Vasquez and Ramirez Poveda who staged a failed US-backed coup in Venezuela in 2002.

Over the decades, graduates of the School have murdered and tortured hundreds of thousands of people across Latin America, specifically targeting trade union leaders, grassroots activists, students, guerrilla units, and political opponents. The murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of Nicaragua, in 1980, and the 'El Mozote' massacre of 767 villagers in El Salvador, in 1981, were committed by graduates of the School. And yet the School of the Americas Watch, an organisation trying to shut WHINSEC down, is on an FBI 'anti-terrorism' watch-list.

So Africa should be concerned if the African Centre for Strategic Studies has similar objectives, even if the School of the Americas Watch cannot confirm these fears? There is more: we've all heard of the 'Standby Force' being devised by the African Union (AU), a coalition of Africa's authoritarian neo-liberal regimes. But the AU has also set up, under the patronage of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe - which also covers North America, Russia and Central Asia - the African Centre for the Study and Research of Terrorism.

The Centre is based in Algiers in Algeria, at the heart of a murderous regime that has itself 'made disappear' some 3,000 people between 1992 and 2003 (according to Amnesty International this is equivalent to the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, but it is a fact ignored by the African left). The Centre's director, Abdelhamid Boubazine told me that it would not only be a think-tank and trainer of 'anti-terrorism' judges, but that it would also have teeth and would provide training in 'specific armed intervention' to support the continent's regimes.

Anneli Botha, the senior researcher on terrorism at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said though, that only ten per cent of terrorist attacks in Africa were on armed forces, and only six per cent were on state figures and institutions, though the latter were 'focused'. She warned that a major cause of African terrorism was 'a growing void between government and security forces on the one hand, and local communities on the other'. Caught in the grip of misery and poverty, many people are recruited into rebel armies even though few of these offer any sort of real solution.

The Centre in Algiers operates under the AU's 'Algiers Convention on Terrorism', which is notoriously vague on the definition of terrorism. This opens the door for a wide range of non-governmental, protest, grassroots, civic, and militant organisations to be targeted for elimination by the new counter-terrorism forces. It would be naïve to think that bourgeois democracy - which passed South Africa's equally vaguely-defined Protection of Constitutional Democracy from Terrorism and Other Related Activities Act into law last year - will protect the working class, peasantry and poor from state terrorism.

- Michael Schmidt is a Johannesburg-based journalist and political activist. This article was first published in three years ago in 'Zabalaza: a Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism', No. 8, November 2006. Zabalaza is the English-language sister journal of the French-language Afrique Sans Châines.

Le combat prendra fin le jour où on retournera sur l'archipel des Chagos

Olivier Bancoult, leader du Groupe réfugiés Chagos (GRC), déposant devant la Commission Justice et Vérité hier, a indiqué que son combat contre les Anglais s'achèvera le jour où la communauté chagossienne sera autorisée à s'installer de manière définitive sur l'archipel des Chagos. " Je ne mène pas cette lutte pour obtenir le passeport britannique. Loin de là ! Je me bats pour le droit fondamental de la communauté chagossienne qui m'a délégué pour déposer devant la commission Borraine ", a-t-il précisé.

L'accent sur la souveraineté est correct mais insuffisant, estime de son côté le commissaire Paramaseeven Veerapen. Réagissant, Olivier Bancoult dit partager cet avis et qu'il compte faire un pèlerinage sur le continent africain avec comme point de départ l'Afrique du Sud pour alerter l'opinion internationale sur le sort des Chagossiens… " Côté finances, nous sommes limités. Mais en organisant des activités pour une levée de fonds, nous parvenons à couvrir les dépenses de certains déplacements ", indique-t-il.

Le GRC, ajoute Olivier Bancoult, créera sous peu son siteweb. Le dirigeant du GRC dit ne pas croire dans la fermeture de la base militaire à l'expiration du bail en 2016. " Avec des sommes colossales dépensées par les États-Unis, je ne crois pas que les Américains partiront. Mo napa kroir dan bolom noel mwa. " De son point de vue, la revendication pour le retour des Chagos doit être entamée par le gouvernement en cherchant l'appui de la SADC, de l'Union africaine (UA) et du Commonwealth.

Olivier Bancoult affirme que les déracinés de l'archipel des Chagos ont été bouleversés par la vente de leurs îles en 1965 à une compagnie privée, cela sans aucune consultation avec les natifs. " Nous sommes un peuple indigène. Nous prions la Commission de faire son enquête à partir de l'époque coloniale jusqu'à 1965. " Dans les trois îles habitables - Peros Banos, Salomon et Diego Garcia - les Chagossiens, indique-t-il, menaient une vie paisible et formidable. " Tout le monde avait un emploi et un toit même s'il était couvert de chaume. " La construction d'une maison, dit-il, était autorisée même sans aucun contrat. " Quand on avait atteint l'âge de retraite à 60 ans, il n'y avait aucun ordre d'éviction. Les jeunes de 21 ans construisaient leur propre toit pour ne pas être dépendants de leurs parents. " La communauté qui y vivait, dit-il, était engagée dans la plantation de coco, utilisait ce produit pour la fabrication de l'huile " pou ekler sato leroi, larenn ".

Après les heures de travail, souligne le dirigeant du GRC, les Chagossiens s'adonnaient à des parties de pêche. " Il n'y avait pas de chômeur. On vivait avec cet esprit de partage. On était un. " En 1965, se souvient-t-il, Harold Wilson, Premier ministre d'alors en Grande-Bretagne, convoque des dirigeants mauriciens à Lancaster House pour leur proposer le détachement de cet archipel de Maurice pour en faire une base militaire. " Nous ne représentions pas de danger pour les Britanniques ou les Américains. L'Angleterre nous a déracinés avec en contrepartie accorder l'indépendance à Maurice. On ne nous a pas consultés. C'était une décision arbitraire et injuste ! " Il invite la Commission à reconnaître les injustices que les déracinés ont vécues. L'intégration des Chagossiens dans la société mauricienne, selon lui, est demeurée difficile. " Kalite travay ki ti ena Chagos pa ena Maurice. Adaptasyon inn difisil. Pa finn ena planifikasyon e formasyon pou nou integre isi. " Le gouvernement colonial, insiste-t-il, a commis un tort immense, a violé les droits universels des Droits de l'homme, a bafoué le droit fondamental de vivre sur la terre natale.

Après plusieurs victoires enregistrées en Cour d'Angleterre, le GRC a déposé sa plainte devant la Cour européenne des Droits de l'homme. " Notre cas sera entendu avant la fin de cette année. " Le gouvernement anglais, dit Olivier Bancoult, doit avoir honte, lui qui se fait passer pour un champion dans le respect des droits de l'homme. " Avec l'arrivée d'un nouveau gouvernement en Angleterre, nous gardons espoir pour un changement d'attitude. Nous espérons que la nouvelle équipe mettra fin à toute forme d'injustice à notre égard. Mais, je dois dire que tous les partis politiques quand ils se trouvent dans l'opposition se montrent solidaires mais, au pouvoir, ils changent leur prise de position. "

Côté Maurice, dit Olivier Bancoult, le gouvernement de Navin Ramgoolam se montre un peu plus sensible à notre cause. " Le gouvernement se concentre sur la souveraineté. Moi, en tant que simple natif, j'ai pris l'initiative de poursuivre le gouvernement britannique. Le gouvernement mauricien a un arsenal de moyens pour revendiquer la rétrocession des Chagos. Il peut solliciter les forums internationaux. Bizin aret dir friendly relations. Noule aksyon avek ki boukou perkitant. "

Par ailleurs, Olivier Bancoult ajoute qu'une étude menée auprès des Chagossiens a démontré que 89 % d'entre eux ont exprimé le désir d'y retourner. " Il faut aménager toutes les infrastructures. Déjà, il y a environ 4 000 étrangers sur Diego Garcia. Pourquoi les Chagossiens ne pourront-ils pas y vivre ? Un expert a dit que le relogement est possible. Les Anglais, eux, sont venus nous effrayer en disant que ces îles seront submergées avec le réchauffement de la planète terre. Nous sommes déterminés à aller revivre sur la terre de nos ancêtres. Nous pourrons faire développer toutes les îles avec leur 3 000 hectares sous plantation de cocotiers. La pêche est un autre secteur qui nous permettra de gagner notre vie. Il ne faut pas oublier que les plus importantes prises de thon sont faites dans les eaux des Chagos ", conclut-il.

Le Mauricien, 13. mai 2010

Beware of "independent studies"

A supposedly independent study on the feasibility of letting the exiled Chagos islanders go back to their homes was manipulated to reflect the British Government’s opposition to their return, a Times investigation has revealed.

The 2002 feasibility study lies at the centre of the Government’s case to the European Court of Human Rights on the islanders’ right to return to the archipelago four decades after they were deported from Diego Garcia to make way for an American military base.

In its submission to the court the Government contended that the study, “which was prepared and adopted by all the independent experts involved, clearly indicated that resettlement is not feasible”. However, one of those independent experts, Stephen Akester, said his conclusions that the islands could be resettled were erased from the study amid political pressure.

Further reading.

Thursday 13 May 2010

An illusion to be cherished for - weeks? months? certainly not years believes in the new UK government. Hope against hope, barring a miracle. Unfortunately, it is very hard to believe why the Liberal Democrats - with their admittedly clean slate as far as Chagos is concerned - will not cave in for "security reasons" to be quoted by the US government when the right of return would be taken seriously.

"After days of haggling, the UK now has a new Government. With it comes new hope for supporters of the Chagossians’ right of return: both the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as several other key figures, have already pledged to take action on the issue.

Unsurprisingly, former Tory leader William Hague was one of the first people to be appointed to the cabinet, taking over from David Miliband at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This is positive news, as Mr Hague is on record as saying:

I can assure you that if elected to serve as the next British government we will work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute.

In this same letter, Mr Hague also referenced his deputy, Keith Simpson, who has made two parliamentary speeches on the Chagossians’ right of return in recent months, declaring:

“There is a great deal of sympathy from those on both sides of the house for the plight of the Chagossians, and their interests must be placed at the heart of any decision made about their homeland.”

“…there should at the very least be a timetable for the return of those people to the outer islands. The Foreign Office should recognise that the House of Commons feels very strongly on that”.

Other Conservatives who have spoken out in favour of the right of return, or who have otherwise expressed their support, include Henry Smith (the new MP for Crawley), Mark Field, Peter Bottomley, Bill Cash, Lorraine Fullbrook, Helen Grant and Anne McIntosh (expected to be re-elected in Thirsk and Malton later this month).

For the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg’s office has previously written to state:

“Nick and the Liberal Democrats believe that the Government has a moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home.”

This is a strong and unequivocal statement from the UK’s new Deputy Prime Minister, perhaps the second most powerful man in the country, and adds to the reams of pledges of support that other senior Liberal Democrats such as Jo Swinson have given.

The coalition talks between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats took several days to complete, with difficult policy compromises being made by each side. However, on the issue of the Chagossians’ right of return, there should be no difference between the two parties.

Labour failed to deliver justice for the Chagossians because of the unwillingness to perform a U-Turn and because of a disappointing lack of leadership. Whilst the case for resettlement was unanswerable, the political will was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, the new coalition government offers a fresh start and a real opportunity for a swift and just resolution to the saga.

The coalition government has already written its policy on the Chagos islands. Let’s hope that the right to return can be implemented swiftly and with conviction."


Sunday 2 May 2010

Environmental protection of bases?

David Vine

Just weeks before today’s Earth Day, and for the second time in little more than a year, environmental groups have teamed with governments to create massive new marine protection areas across wide swaths of the world’s oceans. Both times, however, there’s been something (pardon the pun) fishy about these benevolent-sounding efforts at environmental protection.

Most recently, on April 1, the British government announced the creation of the world’s largest marine protection area in the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Archipelago, which would include a ban on commercial fishing in an area larger than California and twice the size of Britain. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called it “a major step forward for protecting the oceans.

A representative for the Pew Charitable Trusts—which helped spearhead the effort along with groups including the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and Greenpeace—compared the ecological diversity of the Chagos islands to the Galapagos and the Great Barrier Reef. The Pew representative described the establishment of the protected area as “a historic victory for global ocean conservation.” Indeed, this was the second such victory for Pew, which also supported the creation, in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, of three large marine protection areas in the Pacific Ocean, around some of the Hawai’ian islands and the islands of Guam, Tinian, and Saipan.

The timing of the announcements for both the Indian Ocean and Pacific marine protection areas—on the eve of upcoming British parliamentary elections and in the days before Bush left office when he was trying to salvage a legacy—suggests that there’s more here than the celebratory announcements would suggest.

Further reading.

Unfortunately, protection of "nature", "environment" or "wild animals" commonly implies suppression and even deportation of local human population. See Botswana these days, read Colin Turnbull The mountain people or George Monbiot No man's land.