Male, June 5 (AVAS): The Maldivian government has decided to reject the naval helicopters gifted by the Indian government and replace them with a Dornier surveillance aircraft from another source, the country’s Defense Minister Adam Shareef Umar said on Tuesday.
Maldives had returned one of the two choppers in May and has now asked India to take back the second by the end of June.
The Letter of Exchange (LoE) for the chopper deployed in Laamu atoll expired last month.
Indian media reports have said that this is another sign of deteriorating ties between the two nations.
Defense Minister Umar told AVAS that the government had been planning to replace the choppers with a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft. The minister did not divulge further details.
There have been reports that Male has been concerned by the presence of Indian navy staff who are stationed in the Maldives for the maintenance of the choppers.
India had reportedly stationed six pilots and over a dozen ground personnel to operate the choppers and also help the Maldivian National Defense Force (MNDF).
Bilateral ties between the two countries had soured after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared a State of Emergency in February following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders convicted in widely criticized trials.
Maldives had subsequently declined India’s invitation to participate in its eight-day mega naval conclave called “Milan” at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
(The featured image at the top shows one of the two Indian naval helicopters in service in the Maldives)