Army chief in Maldives to push dockyard project

Army chief in Maldives to push dockyard project

Army chief in Maldives to push dockyard project

In its dying days, the UPA government has sent India’s senior-most military officer, Army chief Gen Bikram Singh, to Maldives to convince President Abdul Gayoom on New Delhi’s willingness to construct a Rs 3,000-crore naval dockyard, which China has offered to build.

During his three-day visit to the island nation, Gen Singh, who reached Maldives on Thursday, would meet the president, defence minister and chief of the defence forces, among others.

While a number of bilateral and military issues are on the table, the underlying purpose of Gen Singh’s visit is to tilt the balance in India’s favour while discussing the dockyard project. Looking for a toehold in the strategic Indian Ocean region, China has already offered to build the dockyard, much in the same way Beijing had constructed ports at Myanmar (Sittwe), Sri Lanka (Hambantota) and Pakistan (Gwadar).

Proposed to come up on the Uthuru-Thialafalhu island, the dockyard will have space for naval ships as well as berthing slots for commercial vessels.

With an inflow of 12 lakh tourists every year, Maldives' economy is heavily dependent on tourism. But the nation, made up of 1,192 islands, did not have a proper berthing space, compelling ocean liners to go to Singapore and other South-East nations.

Since the days of Operation Cactus in 1988, the tiny island remains one of India’s key strategic allies. Indian Navy regularly conducts surveillance and does hydro-graphic tasks for Maldives.
The country has also received two Dhruv advanced light weight helicopters, one Dornier patrol aircraft and surveillance radar from India.

Besides more Dhruv choppers, Dorniers and radars, Male has sought fast-attack craft, amphibious landing craft and small arms from New Delhi, which Gen Singh would discuss with the officials, said sources.

Another demand is to train 40-60 officers of the Maldivian National Defence Force in Indian training establishments. This was discussed between the two defence ministers twice last year.

The armies of both the countries will carry out an exercise in Indian Army’s commando training establishment at Belgaum later this year, focusing on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. The two have conducted four joint exercises since 2007.