New Delhi (Sputnik): The Maldives has extended the deadline it had given to India for rolling back two gifted military helicopters along with the 48-member crew. The earlier deadline expired on June 30, following which India had sought an extension.
Diplomatic sources told Sputnik that both countries have agreed to allow the choppers to remain in the archipelago at least till December.
"Both the countries have reached a consensus that Male will continue to use the two helicopters along with the 48-member crew till December," a government official who did not want to be named told Sputnik.
48 members of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. will also stay there, as the Maldives has agreed to extend their visas till December. The officials have been deployed in the Maldives to do maintenance work and operate of the helicopters.
One of the two helicopters is stationed on the Maldives' southernmost island, Addu, and the second one on Laamu, on the northern tip of the island. The aerial distance between Addu and the nearest airfield on the southern Indian coast is around 1000 miles, which is more than the flight range of the helicopters. The helicopters will have to be transported by ship to the Indian mainland, which India avoids doing in rough weather conditions.
The Indian government has remained tight-lipped about the rollback of the two choppers. Nirmala Sitharaman, India's minister of defense, refused to talk about it during a recent press conference, saying the matter was still under discussion.
India-Maldives relations have been tense since February, when the president of the Maldives declared a state of emergency, which was condemned by India. India has recently also voiced its concern about the sentencing of former Maldives President Abdul Gayoom and Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, calling it "denial of a free trial."