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  1. Politics
13 September 2010

Government will drop case against Chagos Islanders, says Cable

A letter from the Business Secretary signals a significant turnaround in government policy.

By Sean Carey

Are the dreams of the exiled Chagos Islanders about to be realised? This letter sent by Vince Cable to a constituent certainly implies that the coalition government’s policy has changed dramatically.

Before the election, both William Hague and Nick Clegg made promises that the right of return of the Islanders to their homeland, which lies around 1200 miles north of Mauritius, would be restored. However, these appeared to unravel in the last few weeks. The Foreign Office minister responsible for the overseas territories, Henry Bellingham, was sticking rigidly to the FCO line that the Government would continue to contest the case brought by Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group, before the European Court of Human Rights. Now this seems to have changed.

Cable told the New Statesman in January 2009 that he was appalled at the treatment dished out by successive governments to the Islanders.

“Let’s not forget that this is a long-standing injustice which involves a group of British citizens who were ruthlessly dispossessed of their homeland for reasons of military expediency,” said Cable commenting on the fate of the 2000 islanders removed by the British authorities between 1968 and 1973 and dumped in Mauritius and the Seychelles.

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“Many will say that it doesn’t matter because the number of people affected is relatively small but I disagree. We are dealing with real people here. Worse, the whole thing has been enveloped in secrecy and denial by successive UK governments.”

The Chagos Archipelago, which consists of over 50 islands, in the British Indian Ocean Territory, was designated as a Marine Protected Area by the previous Labour government.

UPDATE: The NS has just been contacted by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, which claims that that the letter shown above was issued by Dr Cable’s constituency office in error, and a new letter will be sent out. This story isn’t going away any time soon, it would seem.

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