Dhiyares, the sister-newspaper of The Maldives Journal, has discovered that the agreement between the Maldivian government and India regarding Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) permits a permanent stationing of Indian military personnel.
According to a high-ranking government official who spoke to Dhiyares on the condition of anonymity: the agreement allows for an Indian military presence for an indefinite period of time.
The official noted that the word "military" had not been used in the text of the agreement, and terms such as "technician" and "officials" had been used instead. The official noted that this had been done in an attempt to make the agreement seem unrelated to military and defence.
"The agreement has not used the word 'military' explicitly. If the word had been there, [the government] would be forced to seek the Majlis' approval. As a foreign military presence in the Maldives can only be possible with the unanimous approval of the Majlis: the government found a loophole to get around it", said the official.
The official said that as per the agreement, Indian "technicians and officials" would be responsible for maintaining the dockyard.
"Even under these names, they are the Indian military!" said the official. "I believe that the Majlis would need to be consulted prior to signing this agreement. Some people in the MNDF also have reservations about this agreement", said the official.
The title of the agreement is "Development, Support, and The Maintenance of the Maldives National Defence Force Harbour Sifavaru at Uthuru Thila Falhu". It is apparent from the name of the agreement that the "maintenance and support" of the facility would be handled by India.
In a press conference held by the Maldives National Defence Force yesterday following the signing of this agreement, Dhiyares had asked about the length of time for which the Indian "technicians" would be present at that location. In response, the Vice Chief of Defence Force, Brig. Gen. Abdur Raheem Abdul Latheef said that the Indian military would not be present at UTF, he said that "only technical personnel" would be stationed there.
He also said that after the development of the harbour, the MNDF would be able to receive" technical assistance" from the stationed "technicians" at the Harbour.
The Vice Chief of the Defence Force refused to answer Dhiyares' repeated questions regarding the organisation to which the technical personnel belonged. "Are they civil contractors? Or do they belong to the Indian navy?" asked Dhiyares journalist, Ahmed Azaan.
Previously, the Chief of the Defence Force Maj. Gen. Abdulla Shamal had claimed that the personnel present in the Maldives at the moment were "technicians" and not "military personnel". However, personnel who belong to the Indian military are present in the Maldives to operate India's helicopters and its Dornier-228 aircraft within Maldivian borders. The Ministry of Defence have refused to disclose any information about the agreements that allow for the presence of the Indian military in the country.
Dhiyares had requested the Ministry of Defence for details regarding defence agreements made with India. Among the requested details were the number of Indian military personnel present in the Maldives. The Ministry of Defence had refused the disclose the information, and after an appeals process, the Information Commissioner had agreed that such information did not have to be disclosed. The case has been appealed at the High Court.
The case of the Dornier-228 had also been requested from the Ministry of Defence. After their refusal, and an appeals process after which the Information Commissioner had agreed with the Ministry of Defence's decision, Dhiyares has decided to appeal this case at the High Court, as well.