Maldives Tells India to Withdraw Helicopters and Personnel

In what is being seen as a snub to India, the Maldives has reportedly asked New Delhi to withdraw military helicopters and personnel posted there following the expiry of an agreement in June. Ever since India opposed Maldives President Abdulla Yameen’s crackdown on political rivals and the imposition of emergency this year, the government in the Indian Ocean island nation has had a reason to worry, said Reuters. Meanwhile, China is building roads, bridges and a bigger airport, upstaging India which has been the country’s prime provider of military and civilian aid for decades.

The Maldives has already made it clear it doesn’t want the two helicopters which India had gifted. The Maldives’ ambassador in India, Ahmed Mohamed, told Reuters that two military helicopters provided by India were mainly used for medical evacuations but were no longer required as the country had enough resources of its own. “They were very useful in the past but with the development of adequate infrastructure, facilities and resources we are now in a position to handle medical evacuations on our own,” he said. Along with the helicopters, India had around 50 military personnel, including pilots and maintenance crew, and their visas had expired, but they haven’t yet been withdrawn from the Maldives.

“We are still there, our two helicopters and the men,” an Indian Navy spokesman told the news agency. India has been demanding that Yameen free political rivals, including former President Abdul Gayoom and Supreme Court justices. It also criticised Yameen’s decision to hold elections in September saying the rule of law should be restored before embarking on such an exercise.

Providing helicopters and patrol boats and satellite assistance to countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles has been part of India’s naval diplomacy to retain influence in the Indian Ocean.

On its part, China is building ports and roads. In the Maldives, Beijing Urban Construction Group Company Limited took over a project to expand the airport servicing the capital Male, after the government cancelled a $511 million deal with India’s GMR Infrastructure. Maldives has also given the Chinese a few islands to develop, officials told the agency. Abhijit Singh, a former Indian naval officer who specialises on Indian Ocean politics at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said the Indian helicopters were deployed near the islands where the Chinese were present. “Yameen has invited China to do a lot of infrastructure building and he suspects that India is trying to keep a watch on what the Chinese are doing and so wants to keep the Indians out,” he said.