Maldives military refutes 'third' Indian helicopter reports

Maldives military on Saturday refuted reports that a third Indian helicopter was being operated in the archipelago.

Days after the Maldives military resumed operating the two helicopters after renewing the agreement with its neighbours, several photos showing a third helicopter had been widely shared on social networking sites.

In response to question from AVAS over the reports, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) coastguard commander Brigadier General Ali Zuhair said the third helicopter seen in the pictures was a "replacement" of one of the air crafts which was being sent back to be serviced.

"During the last joint surveillance operation here, a replacement helicopter was brought in one of their vessels as the air craft in Addu needed to be taken for maintenance run. That's how its always been done. We don't operate more than two helicopters at a given time. That's what has been agreed," Zuhair explained.

According to Zuhair, India sends a replacement chopper because it could affect medical evacuations and rescue operations.

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.

However, the new government had said the helicopters would remain which was confirmed by the country's new president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih last month.

There had been reports that the then government had 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).

However, president Solih said downplayed such concerns insisting that the helicopters are flown under the strict instruction of the relevant Maldivian authorities.

"Though the helicopters are flown by Indian pilots, we tell them when and where to go," Solih stressed.