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Maldives refuses to join India's `MILAN' naval drill amidst internal strife

28 February 2018

Maldives government under President Abdulla Yameen has opted to reject India's invitation to the nation of islands to participate in a biennial multilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean, beginning on 6 March even as it said military ties with India remained intact.

The Yameen government, which is in the throes of an internal political crisis, has refused India's invitation amidst fears of Indian intervention to restore rule of law in the Indian Ocean nation.

"We have invited Maldives, but they declined it. They did not give any reasons but I think it is due to the current situation there," Indian Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba told journalists on the sidelines of an Indo-Pacific Maritime Dialogue jointly organized by the Indian Navy and National Maritime Foundation.

Maldivian ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed on Tuesday, however, said his country declined India's invitation to participate in a naval exercise due to the emergency situation in his country. However, he asserted that the two nations enjoy a history of excellent defence and military cooperation, a tradition which they are confident will long endure.

The Ambassador's remarks are seen as an attempt to assuage feelings of an apparent snub to New Delhi which has been critical of the Yameen government in view of the emergency in the island nation.

"I would like to clarify that Maldives is unable to participate in the naval exercise during this time due to current circumstances of a state of emergency being in effect for those under investigation for serious crimes. During such a time, security personnel are expected to be at a heightened stance of readiness," Mohamed said.

"When situations warrant that officers be at their post, back at home, we have held back on deploying them to participate in exercises and training programmes held overseas, and as such, not being able to participate in the naval exercise at this time is not extraordinary," he added.

Maladives' ties with India nosedived after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared emergency on 5 February after the Supreme Court ordered release of opposition leaders from prison.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that one of the ministers of the Yameen government left the government amid the ongoing political crisis, shortly after the island nation rejected India's invitation.

Maldives state health minister Dunya Maumoon, who is the niece of President Abdulla Yameen, on Tuesday resigned from the cabinet after the arrest of her father. Maumoon appealed the international community to support the Maldivian people in overcoming the political crisis that has engulfed the island nation.

Dunya's father, former President of the Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and brother Ahmed Faaris Maumoon were arrested on charges of trying to topple the Yameen government. Dunya has been under opposition fire for working with the government while her father and brother are in police custody.

"I have refused to be bullied by different political forces and I remain strong and stand by my convictions," she said in her resignation letter.

Meanwhile, the Maldivian opposition said on Tuesday that it had hired a former UN rights rapporteur to push the global body to intervene in the ongoing political crisis.

The opposition alliance said that they had enlisted British lawyer Ben Emmerson to advise them on securing UN mediation in the crisis.

The alliance includes the parties of former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Emmerson served as a UN special rapporteur until last year and is also a member of Nasheed's pro-bono international legal team.

On February 20, the Maldives Parliament had approved the extension of the state of emergency by 30 days, a day after President Abdulla Yameen sought the extension. The opposition leaders had boycotted the session and called the extension illegal and unconstitutional.

The Maldives is facing political unrest since President Yameen imposed emergency after refusing to implement a Supreme Court order for freeing imprisoned opposition leaders. On February 2, the Maldivian Supreme Court had acquitted former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed and former Maldivian Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb and ordered the reinstatement of 12 other parliamentary members.

Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed on Tuesday claimed that over 50 Maldives "National Defence Force (MNDF) and Police Officers" have been detained by the loyalists of President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen loyalists have detained more than 50 MNDF and Police Officers. Some being detained in their barracks incommunicado; while senior SO police held in Dhoonidhoo. This is worrying. They must be freed.

The MILAM naval exercise comes after Chinese warships were reported headed for Maldives. Last week, a Chinese warship flotilla had entered the Indian Ocean, and was reportedly heading for the Maldives, but later turned around and returned to the South China Sea.

Indian Navy sources said that while a Chinese flotilla, which included a destroyer and a frigate, had indeed crossed into the Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait, it had turned around and returned to the South China Sea through the Lombok Strait.

The Indian Navy was maintaining a heavy presence of warships in the Arabian Sea, including many close to the Maldives, as of early last week.

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