Indian troops on alert, but Maldives intervention unlikely

07 February 2018

India is apparently keeping its troops ready to respond to the crisis in the Maldives, with the Indian government saying it was "disturbed by the declaration of a state of emergency" in the archipelago.

Troop movement was seen at a key air base in southern India, news agency PTI reported, though there was no indication that it was preparing to get directly involved. India follows certain procedural steps to keep its troops ready to respond to a crisis or a call for help, the PTI report noted.

India on Tuesday officially said it was "disturbed" by Maldives President Abdulla Yameen's move to impose a state of emergency in the nation amid a deepening confrontation between the government and the judiciary.

India's mininistry of external affairs issued a brief statement expressing concern at the arrest of the Supreme Court chief justice and political figures in the wake of Monday's declaration of emergency. However, it gave no indication that India will directly intervene in the Maldives.

"We are disturbed by the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Maldives following the refusal of the Government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on 1 February, and also by the suspension of Constitutional rights of the people of Maldives," said the MEA.

India said it will continue monitoring the situation in Maldives, which can now be fairly described as a full-blown political crisis.

The ministry's statement comes after exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed urged India to send military intervention to resolve the political stand-off.

India has already asked its citizens not to visit "Male, Maldives' capital, and other atolls until further notice".

Indian intervention in the Maldives would not be unprecedented, as New Delhi sent troops in 1988 to foil a coup apparently involving foreign mercenaries.

After defying the court's ruling to release political prisoners, President Yameen declared a 15-day emergency, which suspends all basic rights and gives sweeping powers to security forces to arrest and detain suspects.

Following this, Yameen ordered security forces to seize control of the Supreme Court and arrest chief justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, without giving details about the investigation or any charges against them.

Justifying the clamping of emergency, Yameen on Tuesday said it was done to investigate a "coup" by the Supreme Court judges and opposition leaders - in directly disobeying his orders, including making moves to impeach him.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged the Maldivian government "to uphold the constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people in the country, including members of the judiciary."

The Maldives plunged into a crisis after President Abdulla Yameen refused to abide by a Supreme Court ruling that quashed terrorism convictions against nine leading opposition figures, including the exiled Mohamed Nasheed, who was the first democratically elected president in the Indian Ocean's archipelago.

The former Maldivian president has urged India to send an envoy backed by military to secure the release of political prisoners.

Yameen, who came to power in 2013 after winning a controversial run-off against Nasheed, has presided over an escalating crackdown on dissent, jailing almost all the political opposition. The Supreme Court ruling gives the opposition the majority in the assembly, meaning they could potentially impeach the president.

It also paves the way for Mohamed Nasheed to return and run for President. Nasheed, who was president from 2008 to 2013, was controversially convicted of terrorism in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. He was allowed to go to Britain for medical treatment in January 2016. He has lived in exile since and is currently in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Navy conducts routine peacetime patrols in the sea lanes around the Maldives.

Yameen has drawn close to China and Saudi Arabia during his time in office, with both countries investing heavily in the tiny nation.

Located near key shipping lanes,  Maldives has assumed greater importance to China after it began building political and economic ties as part of its so-called "String of Pearls" strategy to build a network of ports in the Indian Ocean region.

China, which is closely allied to the Yameen regime, has called for resolution of the political stand-off through dialogue without external intervention.

Without directly commenting on the UN, the US and India's criticism of the handling of situation by Yameen, Beijing said it believes that the Maldives government, political parties and people have the wisdom and the capability to deal with their current situation on their own.

However, in a move that could hurt the picturesque island nation's booming tourism industry, China upgraded its travel advisory, asking its citizens to cancel their plans to visit the Maldives in view of the emergency.

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