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British Indian Ocean Territory

The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) comprises some 2300 tropical islands of the Chagos Archipelago[?] in the Indian Ocean, about one-half the way from Africa to Indonesia, around 6°S, 71°30'E. Diego Garcia, the largest and southernmost island, occupies a strategic location in central Indian Ocean and is the site of a joint US-UK military facility. The total land area of the Territory is 60 square kilometers.

Established as a territory of the United Kingdom in 1965, a number of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) islands were transferred to the Seychelles when it attained independence in 1976. Subsequently, BIOT has consisted only of the six main island groups comprising the Chagos Archipelago[?]. The largest and most southerly of the islands, Diego Garcia, contains a joint UK-US naval support facility. All of the remaining islands are uninhabited. Former agricultural workers, earlier resident in the islands, were relocated primarily to Mauritius but also to the Seychelles, between 1967 and 1973. In 2000, a British High Court ruling invalidated the local immigration order which had excluded them from the archipelago, but upheld the special military status of Diego Garcia. The territory is a possession of the United Kingdom administered by a commissioner, who is resident in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Defense is the responsibility of the United Kingdom; the United States lease on Diego Garcia will expire in 2016. However, the Chagos Archipelago[?] is claimed by Mauritius and by the Seychelles.

As a territory of the United Kingdom, its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and the head of government is Commissioner David Ross MacLennan and Administrator Don Cairns, all of whom reside in the UK. No elections are held; the monarch is hereditary, and the commissioner and the administrator are appointed by the monarch.

All economic activity is concentrated on Diego Garcia, where joint UK-US defense facilities are located. Approximately 3,000 native inhabitants, known as the Chagosians or Ilois, were evacuated to Mauritius before construction of UK-US military facilities; in 1995, there were approximately 1700 UK and US military personnel and 1500 civilian contractors living on the island. Construction projects and various services needed to support the military installations are done by military and contract employees from the UK, Mauritius, the Philippines, and the US. There are no industrial or agricultural activities on the islands. Separate telephone facilities for military and public needs are available, providing all standard commercial telephone services, including connection to the Internet. International telephone service is carried by satellite. The Territory has three radio broadcast stations, one AM and two FM, and one television broadcast station. Its Internet country code (top-level domain) is IO.

Most of the islands in the territory have no roads of any sort; Diego Garcia has a short stretch of paved road between the port and airfield; most transportation is by bicycle. Diego Garcia includes a major naval port but no other island has a port or harbor. The only airport is the military base on Diego Garcia, which has numerous paved runways, some over 3000 meters long.

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