New Delhi, Feb 27 (PTI) Maldives has declined India’s invitation to participate in a naval exercise, in an apparent snub to New Delhi, even as the Maldivian envoy here said his country cannot participate in the event due to the emergency situation back home.

Maldives Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed also asserted that the two nations enjoy a history of excellent defence and military cooperation, a tradition which they are confident will endure and continue indefinitely, remarks which are seen as an attempt to assuage feelings here.

“Maldives was invited to join the Milan exercise but they have declined,” Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba told reporters on the sidelines of an event today, and indicated that the country may have taken the decision possibly due to the current situation there.

India will host navies from at least 15 countries for the eight-day mega naval exercise ‘Milan’ that is set to begin on March 6 at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Maldives has been regularly participating in the biennial exercise, which was started in 1995.

Reacting to the development, Mohamed told PTI, “I would like to clarify that the Maldives is unable to participate in the naval exercise during this time due to the current circumstances of a State of Emergency being in effect for those under investigation for serious crimes. During such a time especially, security personnel are expected to be at a heightened stance of readiness.” He also noted that the participation of Maldives naval officers would have been as “observers” only.

“When situations warrant that officers be at their post, back at home, we have held back on deploying them to participate in exercises and training programs held overseas, and as such, not being able to participate in the naval exercise at this time is not extraordinary,” he said.

However, he asserted that Maldives and India enjoy a “long history of excellent defence and military cooperation and it is a tradition that we are confident that will endure and continue indefinitely”.

Ties between India and Maldives nose-dived after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared 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 over the imposition of emergency on February 5 and subsequent extension by a month.

The exercise is taking place in the backdrop of China’s growing military posturing in the Indo-Pacific region and officials indicated that the issue is likely to figure during deliberations at the event. Significantly, there are reports of growing proximity between Male and Beijing.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.