NEW DELHI, FEB 27Maldives has declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day-long mega naval exercise - Milan - beginning March 6, in an apparent snub to New Delhi which has been critical of the Yameen government in view of the emergency in the island nation.
“Maldives was invited to join the Milan exercise but they have declined,” Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba told reporters, and indicated that the country may have taken the decision possibly due to the current situation there. “They have not given any reason,” he said. Admiral Lanba was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event.
Ties between India and Maldives nosedived after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared emergency on February 5 following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. On February 21, India had reacted strongly over the extension of emergency by a month.
India will host navies from at least 16 countries for the mega naval exercise at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The exercise is taking place in the backdrop of China’s growing military posturing in the Indo-Pacific region and officials indicated that the issue is likely to figure during deliberations at the event. Officials said China’s military manoeuvres in the South China Sea may figure during discussions among navy chiefs of the participating countries at the event.
‘Milan’ was first held in 1995 with the participation of just five navies. The aim of the initiative was to have an effective forum to discuss common concerns in the Indian Ocean Region and forge deeper cooperation among friendly navies. The exercise is being hosted by the Indian Navy under the aegis of the Andaman and Nicobar Command.
Asked about the presence of Chinese ships in the Indo-Pacific region, an official said, “The deployment of ships by China’s Navy has been since 2008. At any point of time, there are 6-8 ships in the region. We monitor them and know what is happening.” He further said, “There is no cause for concern, it is standard deployment in the Indian Ocean. As per what we have monitored, there is no change in it in the last few years. We are well aware of what is happening.”