The Maldivian government has denied extension on the duration regarding the return of two naval helicopters to India.
An Indian news agency had reported that though the helicopters were to be returned by July 30, the date was pushed further back to December.
Speaking to local media outlet Mihaaru, an official of the Ministry of Defence and National Security denied the report, declaring that no such agreements have been made, and that the government still wants to return the two helicopters as soon as possible.
Over 48 officers from India’s Naval, Coast Guard & officials from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited are deployed to the Maldives in order to operate the helicopters.
The two helicopters, which were gifted to the Maldives in 2010 and 2011, are based in Seenu Atoll's Gan and Laamu Atoll’s Kahdhoo respectively. Under the agreement between India and 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.
Speaking to Mihaaru, a government official stated that the reason for returning the helicopters was over the exclusion of Maldivian military in helicopter operations, which are run solely by soldiers of the Indian navy stationed in the island nation.
The government’s decision to return the helicopters comes at a time when relations between 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 Maldives’ infrastructural development.