Dhiyares, the sister-newspaper of The Maldives Journal, has acquired a copy of the agreement made between the Indian and Maldivian governments regarding the military helicopters stationed in Addu City, as well as several other related documents.
Among the documents is a letter sent by the former Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, Akhilesh Mishra, requesting the Maldivian government to extend the term of the helicopter agreement made between the two countries.
The letter had been sent on 30 December, 2018; less than a month after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's inauguration; and had been sent as a response to a letter from the then newly-appointed Minister of Defence, Uza. Mariya Ahmed Didi, sent on 12 December, 2018.
Minister Mariya Didi had agreed to the Indian request for an increased term of the helicopter agreement, and had announced it on behalf of the Maldivian govenrment on 2 January, 2019; two months after President Solih's inauguration on November 17, 2018.
India had gone into talks with the Solih administration less than a month after his inauguration to keep the helicopters in the Maldives. Defence Minister Mariya Didi had stated in public interviews that it was "un-Maldivian" to "send back gifts given by friends", in reference to the helicopters.
Dhiyares had lodged a request for information about the agreements made between the Maldives and India regarding the helicopters. The request had been declined by the Ministry of Defence, and also by the Information Commissioner's office, claiming that disclosing such information posed a threat to national security.
The newspapers' requests for information on the number of Indian military personnel in the country had also been refused on the same grounds.
Indian Helicopters in the Maldives: A History
The first of the two helicopters currently being operated in Addu were was brought to the Maldives in 2010. India had claimed that Maldivian servicepeople would be trained to operate the helicopters. The second helicopter was brought in 2015. As no Maldivian serviceperson had been trained to operate the helicopters, the Yameen administration had called on the Indian government to recall them.
The agreement for the second helicopter expired in June 2018, prompting the Yameen administration to declare their intention to not renew either agreement and to call upon the Indian government to take back both helicopters and all Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives. However, India had refused to honour the Maldivian government's request and had maintained both helicopters and all military personnel well past the end of President Yameen's term.
The Indian Ambassador Runs the Show
According to the agreement made between the Indian and Maldivian governments about the helicopter based in Addu City; the commander of the helicopter would be directly answerable to the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives.
The agreement states that all personnel involved in the operation of the helicopter would be under the command of Indian Coast Guard Contigent Commander, who will in turn be answerable to the High Commissioner of India in the Maldives.
The Indian High Commission falsely stating through its official Twitter channel that the Indian helicopters were under the command of the Maldives National Defence Force.
However, India has repeatedly characterised the helicopter in Addu as a "gift" from India to the Maldives and had claimed that the helicopter was under the command of the Maldives National Defence Force. The Chief of Defence Force, Maj. Gen. Abdulla Shamal had also repeated this point.
The agreement shows that these were lies.
Indian Military Personnel
The documents acquired by Dhiyares show the number of Indian military personnel attached to the Indian military helicopter based in Addu.
3 Indian military pilots,
2 Indian military technicians,
19 Indian military personnel (unspecified responsibilities),
1 engineer from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited
1 technician from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited
In an interview that the current Indian High Commissioner, Sanjay Sudhir, gave to "The Press", he had said that Indian military personnel would be responsible for operating the helicopters. He said that operating a helicopter was not as simple as driving a car.
All Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives enjoy diplomatic immunity.
Diplomatic Immunity for Soldiers and their Premises
According to the agreement, all Indian soldiers present in the Maldives; attached to the helicopter; receive "full immunity to [them], [their] papers, and their premises from local legal and judicial process, as being extended to other diplomatic personnel".