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The Island of Secrets

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) reveals how a small, remote Mauritian island is being transformed into a military hub for India's navy as the country expands its geopolitical influence towards Africa.

Using satellite pictures, shipping data, financial documents, and images from the barely accessible Agaléga islands, the I-Unit shows how a construction project has the potential to uproot the lives of its 300 residents in order to make way for a military facility.

Since the start of construction in 2019, both India and Mauritius have denied that a military base is being built and claim that its purpose is simply to improve the local infrastructure.

According to military analysts, the structures that are so far visible consist of two naval jetties and a runway large enough for India's most advanced reconnaissance aircraft.

"There's no real reason why this island would be developed other than for military use," Samuel Bashfield, research officer at Australian National University, told Al Jazeera.

Abhishek Mishra, associate fellow at India's Observer Research Foundation, confirmed that behind the scenes, Indian military personnel have spoken about the purpose of the Agaléga project.

"I have gotten the impression that the base will be used for the berthing of our ships, the runway will be mostly used for our P-8I aircraft," Mishra said, referring to India's P-8I airplane, made for maritime reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare.

The construction shows how India is positioning itself as a major player in the Indian Ocean, as its rivalry with China as a regional and global power heats up. In 2017, China opened its first foreign military base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, those living on Agaléga fear the same fate might befall them as the people of another Mauritian island, Chagos, who were forcibly removed to make space for the Diego Garcia U.S. military base in the 1960s.

According to Mishra, India is not declaring that it’s a military base due to issues of Mauritian sovereignty. “These are all matters of national security” he said.

The Investigative Unit contacted all those involved in this investigation.

The Mauritian government restated its position that “there is no agreement between Mauritius and India to set up a military a base in Agaléga.” It added that it used the term “military base” to mean “a facility owned and operated by, or for, the military for sheltering of military equipment and personnel, on a permanent basis and for military operations.”

It stated that construction work on Agaléga is designed to improve “the inadequate infrastructure facilities” on the island, which will remain “under the control of the Mauritian authorities and any use thereof by any foreign country will be subject to the approval of the Government of Mauritius.”  

Mauritius also denied reports that Indian military personnel give orders to the island’s manager and stated that the government has no intention of displacing people living on Agaléga.

India’s Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to our request for comment. Neither did the construction company, AFCONS Infrastructure Ltd.

 

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