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BIOT

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A little slab of Blighty in the middle of the Indian Ocean, BIOT is formed by the Chagos Islands. The territory was established on 8th November 1965 by the amalgamation of the Aldabra, Farquhar and Desroches islands (formerly part of the Seychelles) and the Chagos Archipelago (formerly from Mauritius).

British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) lies about 1770km east of Mahe (the main island of the Seychelles). The territory, an archipelago of 55 islands, covers some 54,400km² of ocean. The islands have a land area of only 60km² and 698km of coastline. Diego Garcia, the largest and most southerly island, is 44km².

First discovered, uninhabited, in the 16th century, the Chagos Islands were blagged by the Frogs in the late 18th century, who promptly imported slaves and began to exploit them for copra (coconut oil).

The bottom line is that we ended up with them after inheriting them courtesy of the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Britain restored Réunion to France, and France ceded to Britain Mauritius and its dependencies, which comprised Seychelles and various other islands, including the Chagos Archipelago. All these dependencies continued to be administered from Mauritius until 1903, when the Seychelles group was detached to form a separate Crown Colony.

The Chagos islands continued to be administered as a dependency of Mauritius until they were detached to become part of the British Indian Ocean Territory in 1965. At the same time Britain paid a grant of £3 million to Mauritius in consideration of the detachment of the Chagos islands. All very nice. But what wasn't mentioned was the intention to lease the island of Diego Garcia to the Spams for half a century (with a proviso for an extra twenty years) - and all rent free! This had something to do with a very good cut price deal (with extended warranty) on Polaris missiles, which the Royal Navy had taken on-board as the UK's (then) new nuclear deterrent.

A caveat in the lease small print dictated that the whole area had to be sanitised, i.e. local inhabitants removed - forcibly if necessary. Now we're not talking half a dozen fishermen here. Oh no. Two thousand people occupied the various islands and a thriving cottage industry of copra production was still doing rather nicely, thank you very much. They simply had to go, and all sorts of nasty tricks were employed to facilitate their removal. The French-owned oil production company was bought out and everyone subsequently fired. Job's a good 'un! The hapless inhabitants - who were Crown subjects don't forget - were deposited around the Seychelles and Mauritius and many live in slum conditions to this day. Rule Britannia!

It was all very ungentlemanly, and anyone who thought the British Empire stood for fairness and decency could be forgiven for being rather annoyed by such underhand dealings. And all this was being done by a Labour government, and very little - if anything - was put before the Commons. Sound familiar?

Anyhow, the Spams slapped an enormous runway on it and what started off as a small 'naval support facility' ballooned in to a sprawling high security military installation with its own anchorage and the rest of the bells and whistles that go with such a package.

On 29th June 1976 the former Seychelles-owned islands were given back to the Seychelles, and only Diego Garcia remained as that little corner of Johnny Foreignerland that will be forever England - well, until 2035 at least. This has really pissed off the various successive Mauritian governments, who have asserted a sovereignty claim to the islands, arguing that they were detached illegally.

BIOT is overseen by a Commissioner and Administrator who are based in London. The Commissioner's Representative in the BIOT is the Commanding Officer of around the forty Royal Navy personnel who form Naval Party 1002 at Diego Garcia and who also serves as Her Majesty's Justice of the Peace.

Today there are around 3,500 US military and civvy contractors on 'The Footprint of Freedom' - so called due to the geographical similarity with a child;s footprint. Most simply call it 'The Rock'. Some even call it BFPO 485. It is also alleged that every third full moon, Elvis can be seen riding Shergar on the beach.