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Context of 'October 10, 1975: Pentagon Report Supports Resettling Chagos Inhabitants'

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A British ordinance denies the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago the legal right to return once they have been evicted from the islands. The British government claims that the measure is necessary in order to ensure “the peace, order and good government of the territory.” (MacAskill and Evans 9/1/2000)

The Washington Post is the first Western newspaper to report about the forced relocation of the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands. US officials had previously claimed that the island of Diego Garcia was “uninhabited,” (see June 5, 1975) and (see March 6, 1975) conveniently ignoring the fact that the island had been depopulated by Britain and the US (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). (Ottaway 9/9/1975; Washington Post 9/11/1975)

The Pentagon provides Congress with a “Report on the Resettlement of Inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago.” The 10-page report, drafted in response to congressional inquiries, asserts that prior to the “resettlement” of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago, the islands “were sparsely populated, essentially by contract workers and their dependents who bad been brought to the islands to work in coconut plantations.” Pressing its case that the islanders were not permanent inhabitants of the islands, the report claims there was “little evidence of any real sense of a distinct community evolved by the special local environment,” and adds that “any attachment to the locale could be attributed to the easy-going ways of the old plantation company rather than to sentiments regarding the islands themselves.” Without any supporting evidence, the report claims that “it appeared that the transfer of the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago would be feasible and that the persons then working on the islands would accept employment under suitable conditions elsewhere.” According to the Pentagon, the inhabitants left the island without protest. “We understand from the British that although there was some initial reluctance on the part of the older people to move, all went willingly,” the report says. “No coercion was used and no British or US servicemen were involved.” The Pentagon report concludes: “United States and [British] officials acted in good faith on the basis of information then available to them, with respect to the issue of resettling the people of the Chagos Archipelago.” (US Department of Defense 10/10/1975)

A congressional subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations holds a hearing on the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the US military facility at Diego Garcia island. The hearing focuses on the forced eviction of the archipelago’s inhabitants (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973).
Testimony of George T. Churchill - In his statement to Congress, George T. Churchill, director of International Security Operations at the Department of State, attempts to defend the State Department and Pentagon from accusations that they misled Congress about the inhabitants of Diego Garcia. He asserts that the island’s population had consisted mainly of “contract laborers and their families whose livelihood depended on the coconut plantations and whose ties to the island were tenuous.” Their settlements, he says, “appear to have been something more than work camps but considerably less than free indigenous communities.” Churchill argues that resettlement was necessary because the islanders would not have had work once the plantations were replaced by US military facilities. When it was time to go, he claims, the residents “went willingly.” He also contends that he could find no evidence in government files that there was a “lack of concern for the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands.” He admits that his report is based entirely on US and British sources and that no attempt was made to interview the former inhabitants or request information from the Mauritius government—despite his acknowledgment that on many issues, there “simply wasn’t enough data.” Churchill argues that it was Britain’s responsibility to see to the islanders’ welfare after resettlement and denies that the US has any obligation—moral or legal—to the islanders, even though their eviction had been a condition of the US’ 1966 agreement (see December 30, 1966) with Britain to use the island. (US Congress 11/4/1975)
Testimony of Commander Gary Sick - Pentagon official Gary Sick addresses accusations that the military has misled Congress about Diego Garcia’s population. In his testimony he cites instances where passing references were made about the islands’ population, including a 1964 Washington Post article mentioning the possibility that an “indigenous population” might exist on the island; a 1969-1979 Pentagon spending proposal which referred to the islanders as “rotating contract personnel engaged in harvesting copra”; and a 1970 congressional hearing in which it was stated that the “British [had] gone a little farther about removing the population from there now.” (US Congress 11/4/1975)

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