Friday, April 26, 2013

A US Base in the Maldives?
Security Risks Monitor

Apr 25, 2013

Azra Naseem, Editor of Maldivian blog Dhivehi Sitee [] claims in a report dated 24 April 2013 that Maldives government is in the process of signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States which will allow the country to establish a military base in the atoll nation. The author has also posted a PDF copy of the Draft Agreement on the web site. Meanwhile Minivan News a mainstream news channel of the country has reproduced the report and a confirmation from the United States Embassy in Sri Lanka of discussions on the subject but the Embassy indicated that the agreement is yet to be finalized. [Both reports have not been confirmed by other sources so far]
United States interest in the Indian Ocean is well established and is closely linked to the Asia Pacific pivot. Thus SOFA with Maldives should not come as a surprise. Senior Maldivian ministers were invited aboard a United States aircraft carrier on 27 March 2013 as it passed by the Maldives. The visit was followed by signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Maldives and the US government to install a free border control system. Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen, were flown to the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier. The United States is also expanding relations with Maldives with the grant of free border control system that is a boon to the country after it has been engaged in costly negotiations for the same with a Malaysian company in the past. US forces have prepared joint security plan for the country and have been carrying out small scale exercises with Maldives military that have led to continued interaction with Male at different levels.
The draft agreement purportedly provides US unfettered access to all aerial and sea ports in Maldives with designated areas sealed off for exclusive use. This agreement will require the approval of the Maldives parliament as the Article 77(3) of the 2008 Maldives Constitution stipulates that, “ No part of the territory of the Maldives shall be given to a foreign person or party for a military purpose for any period without the approval of the People’s Majlis,” states Naseem in the article.
Maldives is undergoing major political upheaval with the present administration under President Mohammad Waheed accused of a having toppled his former boss Mohammad Nasheed in what the latter has called a coup. The country is due for fresh elections in September 2013, where Nasheed is expected to sweep the same. Nasheed is also known to be close to US President Barack Obama.
Coming in the wake of the likely extension of the agreement for use of the island of Diego Garcia by the US by December 2014, Maldives will provide another base of operations and also an alternative in case UK does not agree to the extension as per Naseem. The presence in Maldives fits into the US Asia Pacific shift as it would provide a major pivot in the Indian Ocean. Analysts in the West have been frequently accusing China of plans to acquire a base in the Maldives, but Washington may have pipped Beijing in the Indian Ocean.
Interestingly Minister of Defence and National Security of Maldives, Mr. Mohamed Nazim had a one hour long meeting with the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony at South Block on, 15 April, 2013, followed by a meeting with the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and CAS and the Vice Chiefs of Army and Navy and DG, Coast Guard. Nazim a former colonel of the Maldivian defence forces was on a 4 day official visit to India. Shri Antony also hosted a banquet for his counterpart. The agreement with the US would have come up for discussion.
India’s relations with Maldives have been a subject of some debate after the government evicted Indian company GMR abruptly terminating a long term contract. Former President Mohammad Nasheed also sought refuge in the Indian High Commission in February 2013 fearing arrest over case of detention of a Judge during his tenure in office.
India had been chary of foreign bases in the region and how New Delhi will react to these developments remains to be seen?

Good news indeed. The Chinese seem to have been pipped.

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