India and Maldives are engaged in a series of high level meetings to end the logjam in the relations over strategic issues, sources have confirmed.
Maldivian Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed had met Foreign Secretary last week and diplomats and officials held another meeting on Monday. Further, a high-level meeting of defence officials is scheduled later this month.
According to the sources, one possible solution to the problem caused by the Yameen government’s insistence on returning two helicopters India had stationed in the Maldives for the past few years, would be if the Maldives accepts a long pending Indian offer of a Dornier patrol aircraft instead.
“Male is likely to revive an old Letter of Exchange [LoE] that India had sent offering a Dornier aircraft for maritime surveillance,” an official source familiar with the matter told The Hindu.
Maldives itself has requested the Dornier some time ago but has not approved the LoE for the last two years.
According to the source, the LoE would be slightly modified and will include terms for about 30 Indian personnel, including pilots and engineers, as well as the construction team required to build a hangar for the plane at the Kadhdhoo National Defence facility. Expenses for the effort would be shared by both the governments, according to the terms being discussed presently.
As in the case of the helicopters, the LoE is expected to be valid for two years with the standard provision that it can be terminated at any point. Maldives hopes to replace the Indian pilots over time with their pilots. One Maldivian pilot has already been trained in India for the Dornier and one more is to be trained soon.
According to sources, Maldives government is not willing to reconsider the leases of the two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) stationed in Addu and Laamu atolls and won’t extend the visas for Indian military personnel stationed there to operate them. There are about 26 Navy personnel including pilots currently posted there.
India had gifted the two helicopters in 2013 and one of them was operated by the Indian Coast Guard, the LoE of which has expired early this year, and the other is operated by Indian Navy and due to expire soon.
While discussions are on, the Indian military establishment said it is yet to be informed of these developments. A defence source said a decision on withdrawing the helicopters, that are still stationed in the Maldives, is awaited from the Ministry of Defence.
The bilateral relationship has been on a downward trajectory since Maldives started moving closer to China and further when President Abdulla Yameen declared emergency in the country in February.
As reported by The Hindu last week, Maldives had set India a deadline by the month-end to remove its helicopters and refused to extend visa of Navy personnel there forcing the External Affairs Ministry to step in to resolve the issue.
The main reasons for the unhappiness over the helicopters, that India has been keen to have stationed in the strategically located Atolls, said a senior official aware of the negotiations in Male, were statements made during the period of the emergency. Amidst calls by the Maldivian opposition in exile to India for a “military intervention” to depose Mr. Yameen, media reports had suggested India put troops, ships and aircraft on standby, while the presence of more than 40 Indian military personnel on the Islands became a cause for worry for the Yameen government.
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