When the Indian armed forces put down a Maldivian coup

The regime change in Maldives Tuesday had many oldtimers recalling Operation Cactus in November 1988 when the Indian armed forces went into the archipelago nation after then president Maumoom Abdul Gayoom faced a coup by mercenaries of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam.

Within 12 hours of the SOS being received by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, two Indian Air Force IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft flew 2,000 km non-stop from the Agra airbase carrying a batallion of the Indian Army's Parachute Regiment and landed at Male International Airport on Hulule Island.

A paradrop was originally envisaged but in the end that was not necessary.
Squadron Leader A.K. Chordia vividly describes the operation on bharatrakshak.com: "The runway was considered safe and the Air Traffic Control granted permission to the formation to land.Parachutes were placed aside and the troops prepared to walk out of the aircraft with their equipment after landing ... The troops soon broke into small sections and headed for their objectives. We followed a section of men to the ATC. In minutes after landing, the troops had taken control of the ATC. And then a word of assurance from (force commander) Brigadier 'Bull" Bulsara to President Gayoom 'Mr President, we have arrived'..."

"Troops were soon heading stealthily in small boats towards the Presidential Palace on the adjoining island. Then there was an eerie silence broken only by the occasional landing of the IAF aircraft. Around 3 a.m., the menacing silence was shattered by the sound of firing of small and medium arms.

It seemed there was an exchange of fire between a ship heading for high seas and the Indian troops on the island. Each boom of the gun sent shivers down the spine. One wasn’t really clear about the direction of fire. By daybreak the mercenaries had fled and the situation was under control."

That's when the Indian Navy took over.

They mercenaries had commandeered a merchant vessel -- Progress Light -- and taking with them a number of hostages, including the then transport minister and his wife, set sail for Colombo.

The intended to negotiate amid international publicity in Sri Lanka.

The merchant ship was spotted by a maritime reconnaissance aircraft, prompting Indian Navy ships INS Godavari and INS Betwa to speed to the scene.

Negotiations were attempted but when this failed, warning shots were fired by both the naval ships. The graduated use of force finally compelled the rebels to surrender.

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