New Delhi: Maldives has declined New Delhi’s invitation to participate in a naval exercise next month amid differences between the two over the imposition of emergency in the atoll nation and the arrests of several opposition leaders, news reports said on Tuesday.
The invitation was for the biennial naval exercise code named “Milan" where the Indian Navy hosts its counterparts from more than a dozen countries.
Maldives was sent an invite to the eight-day naval exercise, but it has declined, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba was quoted as saying by PTI news agency.
“Maldives has not given any reason for the decision," the navy chief said.
The exercise, that was first held in 1995 with five navies, aims to expand regional cooperation and combat unlawful activities in critical sea lanes.
Australia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand and Oman are among countries that have confirmed their participation in the joint activity that starts on 6 March in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Maldives move comes amid strains in India-Maldives ties. The Maldives government last week extended its state of Emergency by 30 days.
New Delhi termed the decision to impose Emergency rule as “disturbing" and tried to persuade the atoll nation to restore democracy.
However, the Maldives government said India’s description of the 30-day extension as “unconstitutional" was “a clear distortion of facts" and accused New Delhi of ignoring “facts and ground realities."
In a strongly-worded statement, the Maldives foreign ministry had asked “friends" and “partners" including India to “refrain from any actions that could hinder resolving the situation facing the country".
Maldives, popular for its pristine beaches and luxury resorts, plunged into a crisis after President Abdulla Yameen refused to comply with a five-judge verdict of the Supreme Court quashing terrorism convictions against nine opposition figures, including the exiled former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed.
It was seen as a way for the return of Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president. Instead, Yameen imposed emergency and ordered the arrest of two of the five judges along with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had sided with the main opposition.