Maldives rejects India's MILAN invite: Why it did so; top 10 developments

Maldives has declined India's invitation to participate in a naval exercise, in an apparent snub to New Delhi. File photo
India might have been snubbed by the Maldives, which on Tuesday declined New Delhi's invitation to participate in the biennial naval exercise MILAN 2018. Meanwhile, the Maldivian envoy has said that his country cannot participate in the naval drills due to the state of emergency in the island nation.  

India will be hosting navies from at least 15 nations for the eight-day mega naval exercise, which is set to begin on March 6 at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Maldives has been regularly participating in the biennial exercise, which was started in 1995. 

The development was revealed by Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and comes amid strained ties between India and Maldives, which has been gripped by an ongoing political turmoil. 

Countries participating in the exercise include Australia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, and Cambodia. 

Here are the top 10 developments surrounding Maldives snub to India: 

1) Maldives blames the emergency: Amid reports that it has snubbed India by rejecting the latter's invitation to the MILAN 2018 naval exercise, the Maldives has said that its navy cannot participate in the event due to the state of emergency in the island nation. The Maldivian envoy said that under the current circumstances, it was "not extraordinary" for his country to not be able to participate in the naval drills.  

Speaking to news agencies on the matter, Maldives Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed said: "I would like to clarify that the Maldives is unable to participate in the naval exercise during this time due to the current circumstances of a State of Emergency being in effect for those under investigation for serious crimes...." 

Mohamed added that during such a time, the island nation's security personnel were "expected to be at a heightened stance of readiness". Further, he said that the participation of Maldivian naval officers would have been as "observers" only. 

The Ambassador said that the Maldives had held back on deploying its officers and defence personnel to participate in overseas exercises and training programmes as the situation warranted that they be at their post back home. "...As such, not being able to participate in the naval exercise at this time is not extraordinary," he added.

2) Maldives tries to assuage India: In remarks that were seen as an attempt to assuage feelings in New Delhi, Mohamed also said that the Maldives and India enjoyed a history of excellent defence and military cooperation, which would endure.

The Ambassador asserted that the two nations enjoy a "long history of excellent defence and military cooperation and it is a tradition that we are confident that will endure and continue indefinitely". 

3) Maldives declined India's invitation: On Tuesday, reports emerged that the Maldives has turned down an invitation to a gathering of Indian Ocean navies, with the current iteration called MILAN 2018, that India organises every other year in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.  

The Maldives was sent an invitation to attend the naval exercise, but the island nation declined the invitation, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba had said. 

4) India-Maldives naval ties continue: Despite the reported snub, top Navy sources have said that India's close naval ties with the Maldives continue. The sources point to the fact that a number of Maldivian navy cadets began training this month with the Indian Navy.  

Writing for the Business Standard, defence analyst Ajai Shukla revealed that the cadets from the Maldives have joined the Indian Navy's 1st Training Squadron, which trains Indian and foreign cadets. 

5) Fifteen nations will participate: During the eight-day mega naval exercise, MILAN 18, India will host navies from at least 15 nations. The participating nations include Australia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, and Cambodia.    

6) China's naval activities will be discussed: MILAN 2018 comes in the backdrop of China's growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. With that in mind, officials have said that the issue might be a part of the deliberations among the navy chiefs of the participating nations. 

"The interactions during Milan encompass sharing of views and ideas on maritime good order and enhancing regional cooperation for combating unlawful activities at sea," Indian Navy Spokesperson Captain D K Sharma said. 

Officials also said China's military manoeuvres in the South China Sea might come up during the discussions. 

7) Maldivian minister resigns: Shortly after the island nation rejected India's invitation, reports emerged that one of its ministers has left the government amid the ongoing political crisis. 

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 the island nation in its group. 

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, for her part, has been under 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. 

8) Maldives opposition seeks UN-mediated talks: 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.

9) Over 50 Maldivian defence, police officers detained: 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. Nasheed took to Twitter to voice his concern over the alleged arrests and urged for their release, saying, "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 [an island]. This is worrying. They must be freed."   

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.

— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) February 27, 2018

10) Exercise comes after Chinese warships were reported heading for Maldives: The MILAN 2018 naval drills come days after heightened activity by the Chinese navy was reported in the Indian Ocean. According to reports, the Chinese naval ships involved were headed for the Maldives.  

Last week, a Chinese warship flotilla that had entered the Indian Ocean, and was reportedly heading for the Maldives, turned around and returned to the South China Sea. The development was revealed by highly credible Indian Navy sources.

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.

Further, 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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