The Ministry of Defence has declined to confirm or deny that the technicians that would be stationed at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) would belong to the Indian military. The Maldives and India signed a controversial bilateral agreement earlier this year to develop a dockyard and harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu.
The term of the agreement is 15 years, with a provision to extend it by a further 10 years. At a meeting of the Parliament Committee on National Security Services held today, MP Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon (Guraidhoo) questioned officials of the Ministry of Defence if the technicians to be stationed at UTF would belong to the Indian military.
"It has been agreed to station technicians there after work starts [at UTF]. Do you know the institution to which they belong or will that be decided later?" asked MP Ghassan.
The Minister of Defence, Mariya Didi, responded that the agreement said that services of technicians would be provided for the necessary period of time. She said that therefore the institution to which the technicians belonged did not matter.
"What's important is that the people who can provide the services come; the institution to which the servicepeople belong does not matter", she said. The Minister further elaborated that the technicians would arrive at the request of the Maldivian government.
Dhiyares newspaper had previously requested the Ministry of Defence for the institution to which the technicians belonged. The Ministry of Defence had responded that disclosing such information posed a threat to national security. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) had ruled that the Ministry disclose the information as requested. The Ministry has failed to comply with the ICO ruling.
As per the agreement, the technicians who would be stationed in the Maldives would receive diplomatic immunity. Civilian workers who are stationed in foreign countries generally do not receive such diplomatic immunity.