Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), on Tuesday, revealed that two Indian military surveillance aircraft landed at Hanimaadhoo International Airport in Haa Dhaalu Atoll at approximately 1025 hrs.
According to MNDF's spokesperson Major Ibrahim Azim, the aircraft will remain at the airport till its scheduled departure on September 16.
He further noted that the aircraft were part of a series of joint inspections of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between the two countries, conducted by the Maldivian Coast Guard, MNDF and India.
Hanimaadhoo Island Council's acting Secretary General Ibrahim Ali stated that the crew of roughly 15 Indian nationals will remain within the premises of the airport and will not enter the inhabited areas of the island.
The aircraft's arrival coincides with harsh public criticism against foreign military presence within the country, namely by the opposition alliance consisting of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People's National Congress (PNC).
Parliamentary representative for Lhaviyani Atoll's Naifaru constituency and PPM's Vice President Ahmed Shiyam alleged that two individuals were arrested on the island over publicly disseminating photos and videos of the arrival, and were also prompted to delete the footage.
However, Maldives Police Service refuted the lawmaker's claims.
Furthermore, Chief of Defence Force Major General Abdulla Shamaal, on Sunday, asserted that no foreign armed forces are present in Maldives.
During a press conference held by senior officers of MNDF, Shamaal described a military presence as armed officers with ulterior motives.
Repeatedly denying such a presence in Maldives, Shamaal stated that "technicians, technical personnel serving humanitarian purposes [and those] aiding us and fulfilling our needs are working in Maldives".
He explained that foreign personnel are currently operating the helicopters gifted from India, as local pilots specialised in the field are unavailable.
Since the Indian Ocean is an important territory, Shamaal added that the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan and the United Kingdom also provide military aid to broaden the capacity of Maldivian armed forces.
Highlighting that "the military will not allow for anything to jeopardise Maldives' freedom", Shamaal added that MNDF will preserve the Constitution and the freedom of the island nation.