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French Islands in the Indian Ocean:A geostrategic Presence and Antarctic Dimension

French Islands in the Indian Ocean:A geostrategic Presence and Antarctic Dimension

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Published by Mohammed Khalid

Journal of Indian Ocean Studies, Vol.20,No.3, December 2012, pp.406-417

Journal of Indian Ocean Studies, Vol.20,No.3, December 2012, pp.406-417

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Mohammed Khalid on Jan 16, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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French Islands in Indian Ocean: a geostrategic presenceand Antarctic dimension
Mohammed Khalid*Abstract:
With the rise of colonialism in 17
century, France was amongother European colonial powers who occupied some of the littorallands around the Indian Ocean, including many big or small islands.After subjugating these lands, under the pressure of circumstances, theBritish, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese withdrew from the scene butFrance retained some of the islands in the west and south of the IndianOcean. Seemingly insignificant, these islands are strategically locatedand potentially provide France a physical presence in the IndianOcean. Bigger islands include Mayotte and Reunion and smaller ones
are the „Scattered Islands‟ in the Mozambique Channel and „FrenchSouthern and Antarctic Lands‟. France has deployed its military
forces on some of these islands to protect its national interests in theIndian Ocean including the protection of its trade and oil supplies.France has an elaborate research programme on Antarctica and hasdeveloped scientific laboratories and placed its scientists on theFrench occupied southern islands. These scientific endeavours andmilitary presence in the Indian Ocean and Antarctica make France aglobal player in international relations. Some 9,000 km. away fromthe mainland France, these islands are French extension in the IndianOcean providing it sovereign rights on about 2,700 000 sq km of Exclusive
*Associate Professor in Political Science, Department of Evening StudiesPanjab University Chandigarh
Economic Zones (EEZ) contiguous to these islands. The paperis an attempt to understand and analyse the French presence on theislands in the Indian Ocean.
 France has a long-standing presence in the Indian Ocean especially in itssouth-west since the early days of colonialism in the 17th century. Rivaling withBritain for supremacy, it established trading and military posts on Indian Oceanlittoral with strong presence in Chandernagore, Pondicherry, Yemen, Mahe, andKarikal during 17
and 18
centuries. France founded its colonies in the islandsof Reunion in 1664, Mauritius in 1718, Seychelles in 1756, and Madagascar in1883. After a series of wars with Britain during the 18th century and the first half of 19th century, France lost many of its colonies and subsequently gave up itscolonial ambitions in the Indian Ocean region. The Region was dominated by theBritish Empire in 19
till the mid 20
century. After India‟s independence in
1947 France lost Pondicherry in 1954. It however retained the islands of Reunion,Mayotte, Comoros and the strategically located French scattered islands and itsSouthern and Antarctic Lands.
 Having established its presence in the region for a long time, France has ahigh degree of influence in the western Indian Ocean and considers it of strategicimportance. Using its cultural-linguistic ties and military power, France hasintended to play a role in this area to protect its national interest and hasmaintained close co-operation with its former island colonies. Inspite of itslocational distance of some 9,000 km from the region, France is geographicallypresent in the islands of Réunion, Mayotte, the scattered Islands in theMozambique Channel, and the French Southern and Antarctic Territories. Francehas defence needs, sovereignty obligations and economic stakes in the ExclusiveEconomic Zones (EEZ) of about 2 700 000 sq km. contiguous to its islandpossessions.
To protect its islands, France has military bases in the regionincluding its naval base of Pointe des Galets, on Reunion Island. It hasstationed patrol vessels, transport ship and a frigate in Reunion to protectsea lines of communication (SLOCS) off the southern and eastern coasts of Africa.
The island of Mayotte, alongside Comoros at the northern entranceto the Mozambique Channel is 101st French department strongly boundwith the metropolis. To provide security to this remote island France has setup 270-strong Detachment there to act as a ready reaction force. The forcecontributes to regional security by conducting maritime surveillance in theMozambique Channel; carrying humanitarian assistance operations, andholding training exercises with the armed forces of neighbouring countries,particularly Madagascar.Apart from these bases, France has developed an airstrip of morethan 1,000 meters at Banc du Geyser, an oval-shaped reef that is mostlysubmerged and becomes exposed only at low tides. Banc du Geyser isstrategically located in the northeastern part of Mozambique Channel, 125km northeast from Mayotte, and 200 km off the northwestern coast of Madagascar. Similarly there are roughly circular islands of Bassas da Indialocated in the southern Mozambique Channel, the islands became a Frenchpossession in 1897 and they are administered from Reunion since 1968.France has set up a weather station and a garrison at Europa Island (a part of 
„Scattered Islands‟
which constitute the 5th district of the French Southernand Antarctic Lands) which is in possession of France since 1897. About160 km northwest of Madagascar, France has constructed a 1,300 metrelong airstrip, a garrison and a meteorological station at Glorioso Islands. Inthe narrowest part of the Mozambique Channel, France possesses Juan deNova Island which is one of the
scattered islands
with an air strip, agarrison and

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