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Chagos Islanders remind us that Britain is a shameful coloniser, not a colony

7 86 1239

At a time when Britain needs goodwill and great branding, the world was reminded this week of our nation’s shame, courtesy of the families of 2,000 people dispossessed from their Indian Ocean home in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a shame that looms large in the history of the Chagos Islands, an archipelago whose tiny size is in perfect contrast to the scale of the wrongs its people have witnessed. They are wrongs stretching back centuries, since the British formally acquired the islands from France – as part of the bigger colony of Mauritius – and forced slaves from Mozambique and Madagascar to work on British-owned coconut plantations.

That original sin was compounded when, granting independence to Mauritius in the 1960s, Britain used a combination of bullying and blackmail to hive off the Chagos Islands so that they could remain colonised, leaving Britain free to do with the islands as it wanted. What Britain wanted, it turned out, was to forcibly remove the local population – sometimes referred to in official documents as “Man Fridays” – leaving the territory available for cold war-era US defence facilities. The papers documenting this sorry process were – along with those that report other state-sanctioned colonial crimes such as the murder and torture of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya – sent to Britain and “disappeared” by the Foreign Office, to avoid scrutiny or accountability.

Now that these documents have come to light – many because of legal action brought by Mau Mau........

© The Guardian