The Maldives has given India a deadline to take back two helicopters that were gifted to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
India was asked to take back one helicopter, deployed in Addu atoll, in April.
The Times of India said the letter of exchange for the second helicopter expired at the end of May and that India has been asked to remove it from Laamu atoll.
An Indian High Commission source confirmed to the Maldives Independent the government has given India until the end of June to remove the aircraft from the Maldives.
The two naval helicopters gifted to the Maldives, and operated by an Indian crew, were primarily used by the military for emergency medical evacuation and to conduct search and rescue operations.
A government official told the Times of India the location of the second helicopter in Laamu was significant as China has proposed a maritime port in the atoll.
“Even Addu (location of the other Indian chopper) is significant as it is located at Equatorial Channel and close to Diego Garcia. It seems Male wants to rid both these strategic locations of any Indian footprint,” the unnamed official said.
Indian concerns about a Chinese port follow an interview by the Maldives ambassador to China Mohamed Faisal in which he admitted that China had expressed interest in a port but that a plan had not been finalized.
The Maldives had previously agreed to a US$10 million loan from Pakistan to finance the purchase of two Super Mushak aircraft from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. The three-crew small planes are used as a trainer aircraft and for military use.
A MNDF spokesman asked the Maldives Independent to direct inquiries to the defence ministry. A defence ministry spokesman refused to comment.