In a latest snub from the Chinese-backed government of Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen in New Delhi, the Maldives want India to withdraw military helicopters and personnel stationed there after a deal expires in June, said its sent.
India and China clash in the Maldives, the chain of islands in the Indian Ocean where Beijing is building roads, bridges and a larger airport, eclipsing India which is the main provider of military aid and civilian population for decades.
India has opposed Yameen’s crackdown on political rivals and the imposition of an emergency this year and some of the president’s rivals have called on New Delhi for military intervention, raising concerns within the Maldivian government .
The tensions are impacting aid programs such as the security assistance New Delhi has provided to small countries in the region to help them protect exclusive economic zones, conduct investigations and fight piracy. .
Maldives Ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed told Reuters that two military helicopters supplied by India were mainly used for medical evacuations but were no longer needed as the islands had accumulated sufficient resources.
“They were very useful in the past, but with the development of adequate infrastructure, facilities and resources, we are now able to manage medical evacuations on our own,” he said.
However, India and the Maldives still conduct joint patrols in the islands’ exclusive economic zone on a monthly basis, Mohamed said. The Maldives, 400 km (250 miles) southwest of India, is close to the world’s busiest shipping routes between China and the Middle East.
In addition to the helicopters, India had stationed around 50 military personnel, including pilots and maintenance crews, and their visas had expired. But New Delhi has yet to remove them from the island chain.
“We are still here, our two helicopters and the men,” a spokesman for the Indian Navy said Wednesday, adding that the Foreign Ministry was handling the situation. The Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
“IT’S THE STAFF”
India demanded that Yameen release his political rivals, including former President Abdul Gayoom and Supreme Court justices. He also criticized Yameen’s decision to hold elections in September, saying the rule of law should be restored before embarking on such an exercise.
India was a close supporter of Gayoom during his long years of managing the island chain and sent troops to foil a coup attempt against him in 1988.
China, which opened an embassy in the Maldives in 2011, quickly forged ties with the tropical island chain as part of its Belt and Road initiative. He said he was opposed to any interference by any country in the internal affairs of the Maldives.
The provision of helicopters and patrol boats and satellite assistance to countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles is part of Indian naval diplomacy aimed at maintaining its influence in the Indian Ocean.
But in recent years, China has taken hold, building ports and roads with loans. In the Maldives, Beijing Urban Construction Group Company Limited has taken over an airport expansion project serving the capital Male, after the government canceled a $ 511 million deal with GMR Infrastructure in India.
The Maldives also gave the Chinese a few islands to develop, officials said. Abhijit Singh, a former Indian naval officer specializing in Indian Ocean policy at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said Indian helicopters were deployed near islands where the Chinese were present.
“Now the problem is, Yameen wants the helicopters to come out, but more importantly he wants the staff to come out. It’s not the helicopters that bother him so much, it’s actually the fact that there are these. people there. “
“Yameen has invited China to build a lot of infrastructure and he suspects that India is trying to monitor what the Chinese are doing and therefore wants to prevent the Indians from entering,” Singh said.
Ambassador Ahmed declined to comment on this view.
(With contributions from Reuters)