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coral atoll, largest and southernmost member of the Chagos Archipelago, in the central Indian Ocean, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. Occupying an area of 17 square miles (44 square km), it consists of a V-shaped, sand-fringed cay about 15 miles (24 km) in length with a maximum width of about 7 miles (11 km); its lagoon is open at the north end
overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the central Indian Ocean, established in 1965 by the amalgamation of the Aldabra Islands and the Farquhar and Desroches islands (all purchased from the Seychelles) with the Chagos Archipelago (formerly a dependency of Mauritius). In 1976 the islands purchased from the Seychelles were returned to the newly independent Republic of Seychelles. Thereafter the colony comprised only the islands of the Chagos Archipelago. The archipelago constitutes a semicircular group, open to the east, comprising the Salomon Islands, Peros Banhos atoll, Nelsons Island, the Three Brothers Islands, the Eagle Islands, Danger Island, the Egmont Islands, and Diego Garcia atoll, the largest (17 square miles [44 square km]) and southernmost landmass in the group and the location of a significant U.S. military base.