A government official of the Maldives claimed Thursday that India had agreed to take back one of the helicopters it gifted to the archipelago and provide a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead.
The Indian government had gifted two helicopters to the Maldives in 2010 and 2011. However, the Maldivian government recently requested India to take back the first chopper.
The government official told Mihaaru that India has agreed to provide a surveillance aircraft instead, but the two governments have not signed any formal agreements yet.
According to the source, the Maldivian military would use the aircraft for the same services as the helicopter, which include carrying sick patients in medical emergencies.
"But we can't say when we'd receive the aircraft," he said.
India gifted the first helicopter during President Mohamed Nasheed's regime, and the craft is based in Gan in Addu Atoll. The second helicopter, gifted in 2011, is based in the hanger developed by the Indian government in Laamu Atoll's Kahdhoo.
After reports of the Maldives looking to return the first helicopter surfaced, another state official had declared Wednesday that the government made the decision due to several unresolved concerns, the main issue being that the helicopters are operated solely by Indian soldiers without the inclusion of the Maldivian military.
Under the original 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.
Moreover, 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.
The government’s decision to return the Gan helicopter comes at a time when relations between the Maldives and India appear to be souring, especially amidst the recent political upsurge in the archipelago.