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Diego Garcia

From Academic Kids

This article refers to the atoll. For the musician, see Diego Garcia (music).

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Location map of Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia is a 44 square kilometre (17 square mile) atoll located in the heart of the Indian Ocean. It is the largest of fifty-two islands which form the Chagos Archipelago. It is a British overseas territory, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). It is situated some 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) south of India's southern coast.

The atoll is now covered in luxuriant tropical vegetation, with little sign left of the copra and coconut plantations that used to cover it. The island is 60 kilometres long, with a maximum elevation of 7 metres (22 feet), and nearly encloses a lagoon some 20 kilometres long and up to 9 kilometres wide. Depths in the lagoon range from 20 to 30 metres, while numerous coral heads extend toward the surface and form hazards to navigation. Shallow reefs surround the island on the ocean side as well as within the lagoon. The channel and anchorage area are dredged, while the old turning basin can also be used if depth is sufficient for ship type. In quiet waters of the lagoon, the brilliantly coloured tropical fish can be admired.

Contents

Climate

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Flag of the BIOT, of which Diego Garcia is a part

Annual rainfall averages 2600mm (102 inches) with the heaviest precipitation occurring from October to February, though even the driest month (August) averages 105mm (4.2 inches). Temperatures are generally close to 30 °C (high 80s Fahrenheit) by day, falling to the low 20s (degrees Celsius) by night. Humidity is high throughout the year. However the almost constant breezes keep conditions reasonably comfortable.

Diego Garcia is at risk from typhoons. The surrounding topography is low and does not provide an extensive wind break. However since the 1960s, the island has not been seriously affected by a severe tropical cyclone, even though it has often been threatened. The maximum sustained wind associated with a tropical cyclone in the period 1970-2000 at Diego Garcia has been approximately 40 knots (75 km/h).

The island and base were unaffected by the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Service personnel on the island reported only a minor increase in wave activity. The island was protected by its favourable ocean topography. East of the atoll lies the 650-kilometre-long Chagos Trench, an underwater canyon plunging more than 5000 metres. The depth of the trench and its grade to the shore makes it difficult for tsunami to build before passing the atoll. In addition, undersea coral reefs may have dissipated much of the waves' impact[1] (http://www.estripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=26265).

On November 30, 1983 a magnitude 7 earthquake 55 km north-west of the island spawned a small tsunami resulting in a 1.5 m rise in wave height in the Diego Garcia lagoon, jointly causing some damage to buildings, piers and the runway. [2] (http://asc-india.org/gq/chagos.htm).

History

Portuguese explorers discovered Diego Garcia in the early 1500s and between 1814 and 1965 it was a dependency of Mauritius. The island's name is believed to have come from either the ship's captain or the navigator on that early voyage of discovery.

Diego Garcia was covered in plantations (copra, coconut, etc) in the 1800s. The workers who lived there were called the Ilois.

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Detailed map of Diego Garcia

Now, Diego Garcia is home to a military base jointly operated by the United States and the United Kingdom, although in practice it is largely run as a US base, with only a small number of British forces and military police. No other economic activity is now allowed. [3] (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/cm040712/text/40712w24.htm). The base serves as a naval refuelling and support station. It is also equipped with airfields that support even the largest of modern aircraft. B-52s and other bombers have been deployed from Diego Garcia on missions to Iraq during the 1990 Gulf War, and to Afghanistan in the 2001 U.S. Attack on Afghanistan. High-tech portable shelters to support the B-2 bomber were built on the island before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The 70-year agreement between the UK and US for the US to use the island as a military base was made in 1966. Between 1967 and 1973 the British Government forcibly removed some 2,000 Ilois resident islanders to make way for the military base. The inhabitants were the descendents of 19th century workers, but they were not classified as indigenous residents by the British Government. According to journalist John Pilger, the islanders were tricked and intimidated into leaving until "the remaining population were loaded on to ships, allowed to take only one suitcase. They left behind their homes and furniture, and their lives. On one journey in rough seas, the copra company's horses occupied the deck, while women and children were forced to sleep on a cargo of bird fertilizer. Arriving in the Seychelles, they were marched up the hill to a prison where they were held until they were transported to Mauritius. There, they were dumped on the docks." The islanders now mostly live 2000 kilometres (1200 miles) away on the isle of Mauritius (with a few on the Seychelles or Salomon Islands).

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Diego Garcia from space

Politics

In 2000 the British High Court granted the islanders the right to return to the Archipelago. In 2002 the islanders and their descendants, now numbering 4,500, returned to court claiming compensation, after what they said were two years of delays by the British Foreign Office. However, on 10th June 2004 the British government made two Orders-in-Council forever banning the islanders from returning home[4] (http://www.fco.gov.uk/servlet/Front?pagename=OpenMarket/Xcelerate/ShowPage&c=Page&cid=1007029391629&a=KArticle&aid=1087553733971), reversing the 2000 court decision. Some of the Ilois are making return plans to turn Diego Garcia into a sugarcane and fishing enterprise as soon as the defence agreement expires (some see this as early as 2016). A few dozen other Ilois are still fighting to be housed in the UK[5] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/southern_counties/3977853.stm).

Human rights groups claim that the military base is used by the US government for interrogation of prisoners (with methods illegal in the US). The British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has stated in parliament that US authorities have repeatedly assured him that no detainees have passed in transit through Diego Garcia or have disembarked there [6] (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmhansrd/vo040621/text/40621w13.htm#40621w13.html_wqn9).

External links

es:Diego García fr:Diego Garcia it:Diego Garcia he:דייגו גרסיה ja:ディエゴガルシア島 no:Diego Garcia sv:Diego Garcia

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