PPM alleges 'secret deal' behind India PM's Maldives visit

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) on Saturday alleged that a "secret deal" was behind India Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to the Maldives.

Modi was among the more than 300 foreign dignitaries at the inauguration ceremony of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the country's seventh president in Male.

The visit is Modi's first to the Maldives after years of tense relations between the two countries because of Solih's predecessor's embrace of China during his tenure.

According to PPM secretary general Dr Abdulla Khaleel, Modi visited the country to negotiate a "secret deal" which included increasing Indian military presence in the archipelago and allow the India gifted helicopters to remain.

A day after Solih was sworn in, the country's new defence 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 Abdul Gayoom 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 Defence 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.

Khaleel said under the "deal" the new government would give the proposed mega project to develop the northernmost Ihavandhippolhu atoll of the Maldives to India and the operation of a training school in the southernmost Atoll Addu and Lhaviyani Atoll.

The region remains a key pledge for President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom who had announced plans to develop it as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) under a project dubbed 'i-Havan'.

The Nilandhoo lawmaker 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.

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 partnerships.