New Delhi, Apr 4: Days after declining India’s invitation to participate in a naval exercise, Maldives once again snubbed New Delhi by returning a gifted naval helicopter. The Maldives has asked the Indian government to take back a helicopter New Delhi had gifted to the Indian Ocean archipelago. Male reportedly wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) which India had gifted.

The chopper which the Maldives wants India to take back operates from Addu Atoll. Male may ask India to take back the other Indian ALH too which operates from the Laamu Atoll. The Abdulla Yameen government decided to return the gifted helicopter as the Letter of Exchange (LoE) for the ALH at Addu had expired, sources told a leading newspaper. The LoE can be renewed every two years but the Maldives, for the first time, has chosen to not renew it.

Over the last several years, India has been investing in the Maldives with an eye firmly on China. India not only gifted aircraft but also stationed six pilots and over a dozen ground personnel to operate the ALHs and help the Maldivian National Defence Forces. It is also helping Maldives in setting up 10 coastal surveillance radar system (CSRS) stations equipped with navigation radars, electro-optic sensors and AIS (automatic identification system) transponders.

However, ties between India and Maldives nosedived after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared an emergency on February 5 following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. India has issued a number of statements, reacting strongly to the imposition of emergency on February 5 and subsequent extension by a month.

However, China, which looks at the Maldives as a major participant in its 21st century Maritime Silk Road plan in the Indian Ocean, put up a defence of President Yameen, stonewalling international pressure and enabling him to stay in power during the current crisis.