Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia is an island of the British Indian Ocean Territory, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. It is a militarized atoll just south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean, and the largest of 60 small islands comprising the Chagos Archipelago. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to find it and it was then settled by the French in the 1790s and transferred to British rule after the Napoleonic Wars. It was one of the “Dependencies” of the British Colony of Mauritius until the Chagos Islands were detached for inclusion in the newly created British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) in 1965.

British atoll in the Indian Ocean
For other uses, see Diego Garcia (disambiguation).

This article needs to be updated. (December 2018)
Diego García

Aerial photograph of Diego Garcia

Diego García
Location of Diego Garcia
Geography
Coordinates

7°18′48″S72°24′40″E

Archipelago Chagos Archipelago
Adjacent bodies of water Indian Ocean
Area 30 km2 (12 sq mi)
Administration
British Indian Ocean Territory

(UK)

Demographics
Population 4,239[1]
Additional information
Time zone
Designated 4 July 2001
Reference no. 1077[2]

In 1966, the population of the island was 924.[3]:par 23 These people were employed as contract farm workers on primarily coconut plantations owned by the Chagos-Agalega company. Although it was common for local plantation managers to allow pensioners and the disabled to remain in the islands and continue to receive housing and rations in exchange for light work, children after the age of 12 were required to work.[3] In 1964, only 3 of a population of 963 were unemployed.[3] In April 1967, the BIOT Administration bought out Chagos-Agalega for £600,000, thus becoming the sole property owner in the BIOT.[4]The Crown immediately leased back the properties to Chagos-Agalega but the company terminated the lease at the end of 1967.[3]

Between 1968 and 1973, the inhabitants were forcibly expelled from Diego Garcia by the UK Government so a joint US/UK military base could be established on the island.[5][6] Many were deported to Mauritius and the Seychelles, following which the United States built a large naval and military base, which has been in continuous operation since then.[6]As of August 2018[update], Diego Garcia is the only inhabited island of the BIOT; the population is composed of military personnel and supporting contractors. It is one of two critical US bomber bases in the Asia Pacific region, along with Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Pacific Ocean.[7][8]

The atoll is located 3,535 km (2,197 mi) east of Tanzania‘s coast, 1,796 km (1,116 mi) south-southwest of the southern tip of India (at Kanyakumari), and 4,723 km (2,935 mi) west-northwest of the west coast of Australia (at Cape Range National Park, Western Australia). Diego Garcia lies at the southernmost tip of the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a vast underwater mountain range[9] with peaks consisting of coral reefs, atolls, and islands comprising Lakshadweep, the Maldives, and the Chagos Archipelago. Local time is UTC+6 year-round.[10]

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On 23 June 2017, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted in favour of referring the territorial dispute between Mauritius and the UK to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in order to clarify the legal status of the Chagos Islands archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The motion was approved by a majority vote with 94 voting for and 15 against.[11][12]

In February 2019, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the United Kingdom must transfer the islands to Mauritius as they were not legally separated from the latter in 1965. The UK Foreign Office said the ruling is not legally binding.[13] In May 2019, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the decision of the International Court of Justice and demanded that the United Kingdom withdraw its colonial administration from the Islands and cooperate with Mauritius to facilitate the resettlement of Mauritian nationals in the archipelago.[14][15] In a written statement, the U.S. government said that neither the Americans nor the British have any plans to discontinue use of the military base on Diego Garcia. The statement said in a footnote: “In 2016, there were discussions between the United Kingdom and the United States concerning the continuing importance of the joint base. Neither party gave notice to terminate and the agreement remains in force until 2036”.[16][8]

In June 2020, a Mauritian official offered to allow the United States to retain its military base on the island if Mauritius succeeded in regaining sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago.[17]

Coconut plantation, East Point (former main settlement)

According to Southern Maldivian oral tradition, traders and fishermen were occasionally lost at sea and got stranded on one of the islands of the Chagos. Eventually, they were rescued and brought back home. However, the different atolls of the Chagos have no individual names in the Maldivian oral tradition.[18]

Nothing is known of pre-European contact history of Diego Garcia. Speculations include visits during the Austronesian diaspora around 700 CE, as some say the old Maldivian name for the islands originated from Malagasy. Arabs, who reached Lakshadweep and Maldives around 900 CE, may have visited the Chagos.

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