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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 17 New Delhi April 13, 2019

US’ Indian Ocean base to Remain

Saturday 13 April 2019

by Harish Chandela

The major American naval and air base in the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia in the Chagos Archipelago is unlikely to shut down, in spite of the International Court of Justice cancelling its lease and the decision that the island be returned to Mauritius, of which it was a part of.

The base had been used by the United States during its operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Gulf war.

Refugees of the archipelago had gone to the International Court against Britain’s decision to extend its lease to the United States. They are unlikely to press their case further, in the hope of obtaining employment in the American base.

They had been rounded up in the archipelago and from its biggest island of Diego Garcia and forcibly taken to Mauritius to live there as refugees, and their leader, Oliver Bancoult, had first moved courts in Britain against the British decision to lease the island to the US for a military base.

During the International Court hearings India had been consulted because most Mauritians were people of Indian origin, taken there during the British colonial rule in India to work on coconut and sugar plantations.

Both the US and Britain told the Court that they needed the island for “regional security”. India and 17 other countries have stated that the archipelago was a part of Mauritius and should return to it.

I have my own story concerning the base. In the 1970s I had been posted to Singapore as the correspondent of an Indian newspaper. Stories were current in the region that the US was supplying arms to Pakistan from is bases in South-East Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand, during the Bangladesh war. Pakistan was a member of the South-East Treaty Organisation (SEATO), headed by the US, and was receiving arms help from its ally, the US, against the Bangladeshis.

While trying to find out the kind of arms the US was providing to Pakistan from that region, I came to learn that some of the military equipment to set up the Diego Garcia base had been transported on ships belonging to the Shipping Corporation of India.

India had all along maintained that the Diego Garcia base endangered its security and that of the region and was opposed to its establishment.

By the time I wrote about the involvement of Indian ships in transporting military equipment to Diego Garcia, the base had been fully set up and the story had become old, of little interest to Indians and others.

The author is a veteran journalist with wide knowledge of developments in West Asia and the Arab world.

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