Maldives government has decided to return the two naval helicopters gifted by the Indian government to replace them with a surveillance aircraft, the country's defence minister said Tuesday.
Maldives had returned one of the choppers in May and now have asked India to remove the second by the end of the month. The Letter of Exchange (LoE) for the chopper deployed in Laamu atoll expired last month.
Indian media reports have indicated as another sign of deteriorating ties between the once two friendly nations.
Defence minister Adam Shareef Umar however told AVAS that the government had been planning to replace the choppers with a Donier maritime surveillance aircraft. The minister did not divulge further details.
There have been reports that the 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 Defence Force (MNDF).
Bilateral ties between the two countries had soured after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdulla Gayoom in February declared state of emergency following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders convicted in widely criticised trials.
Maldives had subsequently declined India’s invitation to participate in its eight-day mega naval conclave called “Milan” at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.