May 10, 2014 2:26:49 am
Maldives has requested for Indian cooperation in developing an ambitious new naval base near its capital city of Male, a project that is considered to be central to its defence forces.
The request for assistance in developing a new base at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) is being considered by New Delhi.
The new dockyard, expected to cost more than Rs 3,000 crore, is to be located a few miles northwest of Male and would involve setting up of berthing facilities, repair stations as well as a training facility and housing complex for troops.
The project, and several other prospects for cooperation in the defence field were discussed with the Maldivian National Defence Forces (MNDF) leadership during a visit by Army Chief General Bikram Singh this week.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh visited the location of the proposed naval base, which is planned to be the base of the MNDF Coast Guard, in February and was briefed on the technical aspects of the project.
It is believed that China has also offered assistance to Maldives for the development of the naval project. In February 2012, ousted president Mohamed Nasheed had told The Indian Express that just a week before he lost power, he was under high pressure from his armed forces to sign an defence agreement with China, a pact that he had been refusing to clear for three months.
Besides the base, MNDF is also seeking India’s assistance in strengthening its forces and has expressed interest in additional Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), amphibious fast attack craft as well as small arms for its personnel.
It is believed that a project to train 40-60 additional Maldivian National Defence Forces personnel in Indian academies is also under discussion.
Coastal surveillance radars are also needed by the island nation that has refocused on strengthening its defence after the recent spurt in piracy from Somalia that had repercussions in the region, with pirate ships operating close to its waters.
India has been steadily increasing defence cooperation with Maldives and in December had extended its military hospital facilities for all personnel of the Maldivian National Defence Forces after a meeting between Maldivian Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim and Defence Minister A K Antony in New Delhi.
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