March 2003 update

1. Apologies for absence from Paul (Chairman), Trish and Margaret due to illness.
2. Minutes of last meeting have been circulated and agreed.
3. CHAIRMAN’S REPORT (read by secretary who chaired meeting).

We all await with trepidation the High Court’s ruling following the Witness Compensation Hearings late last year that are due, we believe, by the middle of this year. Our Association was heavily involved in arranging transport between airports and accommodation for witness groups from Mauritius and the Seychelles. A vote of thanks goes to a London member, John Houghton, who runs the bus company we used. He coped wonderfully with all our demands. Kate, too, deserves thanks for her help at that time.

The Court Case News update has been received from Richard Gifford and read by the committee. The outcome is far from clear and could go either way on both compensation and the right of return to Diego Garcia itself.

We will all have read by now the Chagossian’s response to the U.K. Government’s Feasibility Study 2B. This response document was prepared by Jonathan Jennesswho is a well-qualified American anthropologist.

In broad terms, Mr. Jenness’s report states that parts of the study are of a good standard – such as that on marine life and fishing potential – but the majority of the study is of a poor standard, sadly lacking critical data such as rainfall levels and aerial photography aspects of study. More than anything else, he criticised the total lack of involvement of Chagossians in the study.

Interestingly, he suggests the next step forward, after the Government’s various inconclusive studies, is a pilot resettlement project on the Northern Atolls for a small number of Chagossians and scientists. This is definitely the way forward in my estimation and well worth pursuing.

Whilst attending the Friends of the Chagos A.G.M. and seminar in London at the back end of 2002, we met with Allen and Spencer Vincatassin who head the Diego Garcia Island Council. Since this original meeting, we have spoken regularly on the phone and Allen was telling me they have a U.K. based community building up in the Crawley area that will number about 70 to 80 Chagossians by the Summer. They are settling here to raise funds, obtain educational qualifications and act as a pressure group on the Government. Allen tells me they are soon to open a London office and he requested any help we could give. We have since sent £150.00 donation towards an office computer on top of a previous donation of £150 towards admin and communication costs involved with settling a fast expanding community.

Allen has asked to be involved with our Association and we welcome him heartily as a member.

Recently we have had a communication from Bill Samuel, our U.K.O/Seas Territories contact, to advise us of an EU seminar in the Spring concerning accessing EUfunds for the benefit of Overseas Territories. Upon following this up, we were advised that this seminar was only for community territories whose parent governments had already requested funding and, in the case of B.I.O.T., nothing had been requested even though plenty of money is available for the asking.

Recently we were contacted by an author, Mark Curtess, who is writing a book on British foreign policy, especially the more devious episodes. He has produced a chapter for this book on the Chagos story for which we supplied a lot of the background information. There is a copy of this chapter, provided by Mark, being passed around for the committee to read.

We were also contacted, via our web-site, by a Chagossian who has been living in Australia and who is now in London to settle and to get involved in the Chagos cause. We have put him in touch with the Chagos community in Crawley.

Finally, I recently purchased a CD-ROM produced by The Friends of Chagos and was amazed at some of its contents which included images of Diego Garcia military base area and B52 aircraft on the runway and hangar areas. There are also photos taken during the 1996 Expedition to the northern atolls by a U.K. scientific team. All very interesting and I will lend it to committee members soon.

4. TREASURER’S REPORT. Sylvia had been doing some book-keeping and told us that we had raised £3,522.13 since we started our group and that £3,280.00 had been spent. ( Mainly on air fares and bus hire for Chagossians visiting the U.K.) This leaves a balance of £272.13. During our meeting she was given two more cheques: one for £50 and one for £264. The larger cheque was the generous donation of the Hereford group of Friends who heard of our cause from Margaret and Wilfred Brown. Much appreciated. There are a couple of outstanding payments to be made then, at the committee’s request, a sum of money will be sent towards buying school books for Chagossian children in Mauritius.
5. SECRETARY’S REPORT. Jonathan Jenness’s critique is available for members to read.

There has been discussion with Olivier Bancoult and Allen Vincatassin, actively encouraged by Paul and Richard Gifford, of a closer co-operation between the various Chagossian groups. Paul has suggested that Allen represents the Islanders at the Overseas Territories group meetings in London: he IS Chagossian and he lives in the area.
Richard Gifford suggests that we chase up these specific issues with our M.P’s and encourage members and interested parties to do the same:

i) (Promote) A visit to the islands soon, including Diego Garcia.

ii) (Ask about) The intensification of military construction such as the building of hangars for stealth bombers with nuclear bombs.

iii) (Question) The use of DG for breaches of the torture convention in the Interrogation of Al Qaeda suspects on British soil.
Further to the first point, a letter from Baroness Amos to a Member of Parliament states quite clearly and unequivocally “We had given consideration to the possibility of including Diego Garcia on the trip but the Americans informed us that they were unable to agree to it at that time.” It is difficult to see how a number of well-chaperoned islanders can be a security problem when viewing a CD-ROM would show areas and items that they would probably be kept well away from! She went on to say “We are ready to consider reinstating the visit later this year if satisfactory arrangements can be made.” We hope!

Richard Gifford’s Court Case update is circulating among the committee.

Laura has settled in very well in Mauritius and has been learning Creole so that she can talk directly to Chagossians as well as working on a database of CRG members.

It was discussed, and agreed, that money should be sent for schoolbooks.

Interest was shown in Mark Curtess’ book and, it was hoped, that Paul’s help would be acknowledged and some contact for the Association (such as the web site) included when it is published.

Pleasure was expressed at the number of young Chagossians settling in Crawley and that they were both working and studying.

There is a need to keep up pressure on the government, via M.P’s, to try to speed up a visit and resettlement.

Best wishes for a speedy recovery were sent to members who were ill.

No date was fixed for the next meeting.

The meeting closed with a celebratory chocolate cake for Kate who has handed in her dissertation on the Chagos situation (“The Chagos People: Paradise Lost.”) and is now studying hard for her finals. Good luck, Kate. (And thank you, Margaret, for the cake!)