The Indian government gifted a second helicopter to the Maldivian military last week following the signing of an Indo-Maldives defence action plan in April.
After greeting Indian air force officers who arrived with the helicopter at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on Wednesday, Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar told reporters that the new aircraft will be used to transport patients as well as in search and rescue operations.
“Unlike normal helicopters, this one is fully air-conditioned and equipped with facilities to identify people at a distance,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.
Shareef added that the military is expecting new aeroplanes from India, Pakistan, and China.
The helicopter will be stationed at the Kahdhoo military airport under construction in Laamu atoll. In December, the Indian government also donated US$247,471 for the construction of a hangar and aviation facilities at the Kahdhoo airport.
India had also pledged to gift a fixed-wing aircraft to the Maldives during Shareef’s official visit to New Delhi in January. India handed over the first helicopter, Kurangi, to the Maldives military in 2010. The aircraft has since conducted 69 medical evacuations and saved 73 lives, the Indian High Commission said.
Shareef’s counterpart Manohar Parrikar pledged continued assistance the Maldivian National Defence Forces and said that India “will fulfill all requests for assistance by the army,” according to the defence ministry.
Neither country has meanwhile disclosed details of the Indo-Maldives defence pact, but Indian media reports suggested it is aimed at countering growing Chinese influence in the Maldives.
The Asian Age reported today that an internal defence thinktank report of the Indian government had raised fears of “China’s recent strategic manoeuvres in and around the Indian Ocean Region.”
In a statement following official discussions with President Abdulla Yameen during the latter’s visit to New Delhi earlier last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the main components of the plan include the development of ports, continuous training, capacity building, supply of equipment and maritime surveillance.
The Chinese military has also pledged to donate a sea ambulance to the Maldives last month.
Last week, a visiting deputy commander of the Chinese navy held discussions with the chief of defence forces on strengthening Sino-Maldives defence and security cooperation.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has periodically raised fears of Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, with former President Mohamed Nasheed alleging in early 2015 that the Maldives was planning to hand over large parts of a southern atoll to China for a military base on a 99-year lease, in exchange for US$2billion, a claim the Chinese embassy promptly dismissed as “completely false.”
The MDP raised similar concerns in the wake of a constitutional amendment that authorised foreign freeholds in the Maldives for the first time. But Yameen assured India at the time of the Maldives’ commitment to “keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone.”
Yameen had declared during his official visit in April that India is “the most important friend of the Maldives.”
He added: “The Maldives and India share common perspectives on peace, and stability in the South Asia and Indian Ocean region. That is why the Maldives pursues an India First foreign policy. The security of the Maldives is intimately linked with the security of India.”
In July last year, MDP MP Eva Abdulla requesting summoning defence minister Moosa Ali Jaleel to answer whether a Chinese Yuan class 335 submarine entered Maldivian territorial waters between March 31 and May 22.