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SOURCE: PTI

India on Tuesday dismissed the claim made by Maldivian Defence Minister Ghassan Maumoon, alleging that Indian military helicopter pilots stationed in the Maldives carried out an unauthorised operation in 2019.

In a statement, the High Commission of India in the Maldives asserted that Indian aviation platforms in the Maldives have always operated according to the “agreed procedures and with due authorisation.” The clarification came days after India completed the withdrawal of 76 military personnel from the Maldives following a demand by President Mohamed Muizzu. Relations between India and Maldives deteriorated since Muizzu, a pro-China leader, came to power in November last year.

Muizzu had set May 10 as the deadline for the withdrawal of the Indian military troops from his country.

Addressing a press conference here on Saturday, Defence Minister Ghassan said he knew of one of the aviation platforms undertaking an unauthorised sortie.

He narrated an incident where one of the two helicopters operated by Indian military personnel in the Maldives landed in Thimarafushi, allegedly without permission – a case, which he said, was reviewed by the Parliament’s Committee on National Security Services (241 Committee), when he was a lawmaker.

However, the Indian mission dismissed the allegation.

“Indian aviation platforms in the Maldives have always operated as per agreed procedures and with due authorisation from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF),” the High Commission of India said.

Referring to the remarks by the Maldivian Defence Minister, the High Commission said the particular incident which saw an emergency landing at Thimarafushi on October 9, 2019, was “necessitated due to an unforeseen exigency.” “The specific sortie on 09 October 2019 referred to at the press conference was also undertaken with the approval of MNDF.

The emergency landing at Thimarafushi was necessitated due to an unforeseen exigency, which was carried out after taking necessary on-ground approvals from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) to ensure the safety and security of the platform and crew,” the High Commission asserted.

According to local media reports, on May 11, the MNDF revealed that the Indian military personnel who were previously operating the helicopters gifted to the Maldives by the Indian government had made a trip on the helicopter without notifying the Maldivian military during the administration of former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Incidentally, at the same press conference, Defence Minister Ghassan also confessed that the Maldives military still does not have pilots capable of operating three aircraft donated by India.

The Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft gifted by India. The helicopters and the aircraft were used primarily for medical evacuations.

The last batch of Indian military personnel were repatriated by Friday, as per the May 10 deadline set following an agreement between the two countries in February in New Delhi.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in its initiatives like ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Indian government.