Maldives's Latest Message To India Is To Return Gift, A Helicopter

Maldives wanted its maritime surveillance assets in Laamu atoll where China has reportedly agreed to build a new airport runway as well as a port, and not Addu Atoll, the southernmost island.

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Maldives's Latest Message To India Is To Return Gift, A Helicopter

Maldives has told India to take back the helicopter it had deployed in the island nation.

NEW DELHI:  Maldives has told India to take back one of the two naval helicopters deployed by New Delhi in the Indian Ocean island chain as a gift, a stand that is seen as a reflection of the strained relationship between the two neighbours. The move comes weeks after Maldives lifted a 45-day state of emergency which had outlawed protests amid political upheaval.

New Delhi had then ignored calls from Maldives opposition parties to militarily intervene. But India did issue several statements that disapproved President Abdulla Yameen's decision to impose Emergency. Maldives had responded to such statements with sharp rejoinders.

President Yameen, who was roundly criticised by the international community, had received complete support from some countries including Pakistan and China. Over the past weekend, Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also travelled to Maldives, the first foreign dignitary hosted in Male after lifting of Emergency.

News of Maldives deciding to return the Indian chopper emerged soon after.

Maldivian government sources said Male wanted its maritime surveillance assets in Laamu atoll where China has reportedly agreed to build a new airport runway as well as a port, and not Addu Atoll, the southernmost island. The agreement for the chopper is reported to have expired in 2016 and the two sides had been in talks ever since.

"There has been no tangible promise from India," the source said, adding that there had been differences over the location of the assets too.

The sources said India did not agree with this decision. Besides, Maldives had also projected that it wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft which could cover a larger area. Maldives government has suggested that India had agreed to give the Dornier but hadn't.

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India had sent its second helicopter to Maldives in 2016 when he stationed Indian Navy's Advanced Light Helicopter MK III at Kadhdhoo Island in Laamu Atoll of Maldives along with the necessary staff. New Delhi had then described the decision as a step to further "strengthen the robust maritime cooperation between our two nations".

But the perception that Maldives, who had a stated "India First" policy, was moving too close to China has led to considerable unease in New Delhi. A free trade pact that President Yameen quietly signed with China last year didn't help build the environment of trust either.

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