The Maldivian government has asked India to take back one of two naval helicopters the Indian government gifted to the island nation, over the lack of Maldivian military’s inclusion in their operations.
Report of the Maldives looking to return the helicopter based in Addu Atoll’s Gan was first published by The Times of India (TOI), which had cited a top Maldives government source that President Abdulla Yameen’s government wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter gifted by India.
TOI had also reported that the Indian government was looking into the real reason behind the issue.
Speaking to Mihaaru regarding the report, a government official stated Wednesday that the reason for returning the helicopter was over the exclusion of the Maldivian military in helicopter operations, which are run solely by soldiers of the Indian navy stationed in the island nation.
The two helicopters, which were gifted to the Maldives in 2010 and 2011, are based in Gan and Laamu Atoll’s Kahdhoo respectively. Under the agreement between India and the Maldives, the Indian military would handle operations until Maldivian soldiers could be properly trained. However, no steps have yet been taken to train any officers of Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to operate the helicopters.
Elaborating on the issue, the government official told Mihaaru that the Maldives had approached India to reach a solution. While the first proposal was to include the Maldivian military in helicopter operations, the government had also proposed to transfer the helicopter in Gan to Kahdhoo, which is a special wing of MNDF being developed as a military airbase.
The government official stated that despite the Maldives granting New Delhi a period of time to reach a solution regarding the proposals, India had not done so.
The Indian soldiers in charge of helicopter operations are stationed in the Maldives under the “Letter of Exchange” agreement with India. However the government official revealed that, though the contract for Gan has expired, the Maldives is considering against a renewal.
“Even if they had agreed to [transfer the helicopter in Gan to Kahdhoo], we would’ve renewed the agreement,” said the official.
He went on to state that the government is looking to further develop the military airbase in Kahdhoo. However, the official stressed that the priority is for the Maldives to maintain its sovereignty and independence in every aspect.
The government’s decision to return the Gan helicopter comes at a time when the relations between the Maldives and India appear to be souring, especially in the wake of the state of emergency declared by the former in early February. Entities in India have also expressed concerns over China’s growing presence in the archipelago with the Asian superpower’s increasing investments in the Maldives’ infrastructural development.
In addition, Indian media have also reported concerns from officials after Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, visited the Maldives this Sunday. He was the first foreign dignitary to visit the archipelago after the government ended the state of emergency in March.