British Campaigners Arrested at Sea in Diego Garcia Protest

Two British human rights campaigners have been arrested at sea off Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean after protesting against the island's use in British and US military operations. The two men were demonstrating against the island's admitted use by the US for rendition flights and the historic removal of the Chagos islanders from their homes nearly 40 years ago.

Peter Bouquet, 59, originally from Devon, and Jon Castle, 56, originally from Guernsey, were detained by UK authorities after allegedly failing to leave the waters around Diego Garcia on board their vessel, Musichana. Both men are former captains of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior and veterans of environmental and human rights direct actions around the world.

They are currently part of a group called the People's Navy which has been seeking to highlight the plight of the Chagossians and to protest against the military use of the islands, which form part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. In a statement before their arrest, the men said that they wanted to show "the serious nature of our concerns about the plight of the Chagossians and about ... military activities on Diego Garcia".

The pair hope to draw attention to the cause of the Chagos islanders, who were removed by the UK in 1971 to make way for the base, following an agreement with the US, and have still not been able to return permanently, despite victories in high court actions in London. The statement said the protest was also against the recent use of Diego Garcia by the US for the transportation of prisoners being "rendered ... without regard to even the most basic and accepted concepts of justice". It added that although some Chagossians had been allowed to return temporarily to clean and restore graveyards, they should be allowed to return permanently.

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed last night that two men had been detained "after entering the waters illegally". He added that an investigation was continuing. Bouquet, a former member of the merchant navy, made his first protest against whaling off Iceland more than 30 years ago. Castle has been involved mainly in environmental campaigns. Both men said that they were motivated by Quaker ideals "that you should bear witness to a crime, even if you cannot stop it happening".

The arrests come in a week in which MPs and human rights groups have demanded an independent inquiry into the use of Diego Garcia by the CIA. Lord Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister, has spoken to Manfred Novak, the UN's special investigator on torture, about the alleged use of Diego Garcia as a detention centre for holding US suspects.

Last month, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, admitted to MPs that, contrary to earlier assurances, two CIA flights had landed at the base, each with a detainee on board. It has also been alleged that detainees have been interrogated at the base, although the foreign secretary has denied the claims.

(c) 2008 The Guardian

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