The prime minister of Mauritius has accused Britain of pursuing a “policy of deceit” over the Chagos islands, its Indian Ocean colony from where islanders were evicted to make way for a US military base. He spoke to the Guardian as his government launched the first step in a process that could end UK control over the territory.
Navinchandra Ramgoolam spoke out after the Labour government’s decision to establish a marine reserve around Diego Garcia and surrounding islands was exposed earlier this month as the latest ruse to prevent the islanders from ever returning to their homeland.
A US diplomatic cable dated May 2009, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed that a Foreign Office official had told the Americans that a decision to set up a “marine protected area” would “effectively end the islanders’ resettlement claims”. The official, identified as Colin Roberts, is quoted as saying that “according to the HMG’s [Her Majesty’s government’s] current thinking on the reserve, there would be ‘no human footprints’ or ‘Man Fridays'” on the British Indian Ocean Territory uninhabited islands.”
A US state department official commented: “Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the BIOT.”
Nearly a year later, in April this year, David Miliband, then foreign secretary, described the marine reserve as a “major step forward for protecting the oceans”. He added that the reserve “will not change the UK’s commitment to cede the territory to Mauritius when it is no longer needed for defence purposes”.
“I feel strongly about a policy of deceit,” Ramgoolam said , adding that he had already suspected Britain had a “hidden agenda”.
Asked if he believed Miliband had acted in good faith, he said: “Certainly not. Nick Clegg said before the general election that Britain had a “moral responsibility to allow these people to at last return home”. William Hague, now foreign secretary, said that if elected he would “work to ensure a fair settlement of this long-standing dispute”.
Ramgoolam said he believed the government was adopting the same attitude as its predecessor. Mauritius has lodged a document with an international tribunal accusing Britain of breaching the UN convention on the law of the sea. It says Britain has no right to establish the marine zone since it was not a “coastal state” in the region, adding that Mauritius has the sole right to declare an “exclusive zone” around the British colony.
US diplomats disparaged New Zealand‘s reaction to a suspected Israeli spy ring as a “flap” and accused New Zealand’s government of grandstanding in order to sell more lamb to Arab countries, according to leaked cables.
The arrest and conviction in 2004 of two Israeli citizens, who were caught using the identity of a cerebral palsy sufferer to apply for a New Zealand passport, caused a serious rift between New Zealand and Israel, with allegations that the two men and others involved were Mossad agents.
“The New Zealand government views the act carried out by the Israeli intelligence agents as not only utterly unacceptable but also a breach of New Zealand sovereignty and international law,” New Zealand’s then-prime minister, Helen Clark, said after the arrests.
But US officials in Wellington told their colleagues in Washington that New Zealand had “little to lose” from the breakdown in diplomatic relations with Israel and was instead merely trying to bolster its exports to Arab states.
A confidential cable written in July 2004, after New Zealand imposed high-level diplomatic sanctions against Israel, comments: “The GoNZ [government of New Zealand] has little to lose by such stringent action, with limited contact and trade with Israel, and possibly something to gain in the Arab world, as the GoNZ is establishing an embassy in Egypt and actively pursuing trade with Arab states.”
A cable two days later was even more pointed, saying: “Its overly strong reaction to Israel over this issue suggests the GNZ sees this flap as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market.”
Halliburton’s senior executive in Iraq accused private security companies of operating a “mafia” to artifically inflate their “outrageous prices”, according to a US cable.
Written by a senior diplomat in the US’s Basra office, the confidential document discloses the tensions between private security firms, oil companies and the Iraqi government as coalition forces withdraw from protecting foreign business interests.
John Naland, head of the provincial reconstruction team in Basra, wrote in January this year that several oil company representatives complained of “unwarranted high prices” given an improving security situation since 2008.
“Halliburton Iraq country manager decried a ‘mafia’ of these companies and their ‘outrageous’ prices, and said that they also exaggerate the security threat.
“Apart from the high costs for routine trips, he claimed that Halliburton often receives what he says are ‘questionable’ reports of vulnerability of employees to kidnapping and ransom. He said that he recently saw an internal memo from their security company which tasked its employees to emphasize the persistent danger faced by IOCs [international oil companies].” Naland wrote.
The memo, written nine months after British troops handed over control of their base in Basra to the US army, does not name the Halliburton manager.
According to the cable, it cost around $6,000 (£3,900) to hire a security firm for four hours in Basra in January. A typical trip would include four security agents, drivers, and three or four armoured vehicles. A recent visit by a member of Iraq’s government from Baghdad to Basra and back cost about $12,000 (£7,800), the cable claimed.
Tensions between private security companies and the Baghdad government had increased in Iraq following the decision by the US courts in December 2009 not to prosecute anyone for the Blackwater killings of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in September 2007.
The source for this information was a British security company boss, whose name has been redacted.
“According to [the British national] a China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) security team was stopped in Basrah [sic] city by the Iraqi police in a ‘clear attempt to disrupt and cause panic to the clients.’ [The British national] said that the Iraqi police stopped the convoy and showed a letter from the Ministry of Interior (MOI) stating that as of January 12, personal security teams now faced a more restrictive weapons regime. The situation was eventually resolved, and the convoy was released, but [the British national] said that this episode could presage a more restrictive posture towards security firms ‘in retaliation or the Blackwater verdict’,” wrote Naland.
The cable also says that security companies are being encouraged by the Iraqi government and the oil companies to employ more Iraqis and less westerners in frontline jobs.
“According to XXXXXXXXXX, the GOI [government of Iraq] is anxious to ‘get rid of all the white faces carrying guns’ in their streets,” it reads.