Male, November 27 (AVAS): The Maldivian opposition party, Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) led by former President Abdulla Yameen,has charged that the Ibrahim Solih government has entered a “secret” deal with India to increase the Indian military presence in the archipelago and also to give the I-haven Special Economic Zone project to India.
According to PPM secretary general Dr Abdulla Khaleel, the Solih government had struck a secret deal with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was in Male on November 17 for the inauguration the government.
Khaleel said under the “deal” the new government would give the proposed mega project to develop the northernmost Ihavandhippolhu atoll to India and the operation of a training school in the southernmost Atoll Addu and Lhaviyani Atoll.
Former President Abdulla Yameen had announced plans to develop Ihavandhippolhu as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) under a project dubbed ‘I-havan’.
Khaleel however did not reveal the source of his information.
“These power-hungry few are on course to take the country into slavery. We need to think about this before its too late. We need this to be heard. In less than a week, we’re already hearing alarm bells,” he stressed
Khaleel pointed out that a day after Solih was sworn in, the country’s new defense minister had said Male would not be returning back the two helicopters gifted to the archipelago by the Indian government.
Maldives under former president Abdulla Yameen had returned one of the choppers in May and had asked India to remove the second by the end of June.
However, after extensive discussions between both sides, the then Maldives government had extended the deadline to remove the helicopters till December.
There had 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).
There had been further controversy when the visas given to the pilots operating the helicopter expired at the end of May. Despite requests, the visas were reportedly not renewed immediately, causing some concern for the personnel.
Change in Foreign Policy
Immediately after taking the oath of office last week, president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had signaled a change in the archipelago’s foreign policy.
“We will endeavour to fortify the existing ties the Maldives has had with India and other regional countries. The Maldives will hereupon bolster its shared role to retain enduring peace and harmony of the Indian Ocean,” Solih said.
Solih also said the foreign policy of the Maldives will be fundamentally hinged on advancing policies that have a stake in the progress and welfare of our home.
“My government’s foreign policy will be formulated on the basis of human rights, democracy and climate diplomacy,” he added.
He said Maldives was open and willing to establish diplomatic relations, and strengthen existing ties with all countries that wish to form mutually beneficial development partnership
The i-Havan integrated project will include the development of harbors and ports, the cargo storage areas, an international cruise facility, airport, as well as residential and commercial real estate.
i-Havan was one of the biggest projects announced by the President.
The government had formed a special law to kick off the SEZ initiative, with the minimum amount set at USD150 million. The Government had also initiated laws on insurance and banking services within the SEZ framework. The laws say that insurance service providers can begin services, with a reserve of MVR 10 million and MVR 60 million for banking services.
However, the project had failed to get off the ground and ahead of the upcoming presidential elections later this month, Solih while speaking during a campaign rally in Haa Alif Atoll Hoarafushi island noted the geographical significance of the Atoll to the Maldives and would look to develop with foreign aid.
“An opposition government has a plan. We will develop it under an integrated plan. We are already how to get the best out of a transshipment harbour and tourism from that region,” the veteran lawmaker explained.
(The featured image at the top is that of Dr.Abdulla Khaleel, MP and General Secretary of the opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives)