Naseem, Editor of Maldivian blog Dhivehi Sitee
[http://www.dhivehisitee.com] 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]
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.