The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has submitted a case to the police against journalists from Dhiyares newspaper for unauthorised entry into the military site at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF). The site, intended to be a Coastguard harbour being developed under an Indian loan, has become a focal point of political tension in the Maldives.

According to MNDF, the journalists trespassed into the UTF military site on a speedboat on Sunday without permission from the authorities, an act that MNDF has deemed illegal and disruptive to its duties. 

A video recorded by the journalists and published online has further intensified the situation. The video reveals that Indian contractors are working at the site, which the journalists claim provides “irrefutable evidence” of Indian military presence in the Maldives.

MNDF condemned the actions of the journalists, stating that “entering army installations without permission is prohibited, and if unauthorised persons attempt to enter such places, the army is obliged, by the laws and regulations, to prevent it.”

An MNDF sergeant first class, in charge of security at the island, attempted to halt the journalists’ entry. MNDF has emphasised that attempting to enter an army installation is a very serious offence, akin to those in other countries where the use of weapons is even permitted to deter intruders. They are now seeking legal action in line with the law and regulations, MNDF said in a statement.

The incident coincided with an announcement by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih that land would be reclaimed from the UTF to provide land and build flats for residents of the Malé area. Applications for these were opened on Sunday. Dhiyares journalists claimed that their visit aimed to verify this announcement, as they found no evidence on the site of areas designated for housing. Instead, they reported seeing Indian contractors, with communications reportedly being directed to an individual named Rohith.

The UTF project has been a subject of intense debate and controversy, with opposition politicians accusing the government of disguising plans for an Indian military presence as a coast guard dockyard. 

President Solih and the defence ministry have consistently denied these allegations, although the full specifics of the agreement have not been made public, due to national security concerns. 

These issues have even played a role in the recent presidential elections, where the debate over foreign military presence helped the opposition gain a lead over President Solih in the first round.

President Solih reassured the public on Sunday that the government had nothing to hide and welcomed visits to sites in question.

Observers say the unauthorised entry by Dhiyares’ journalists may have been illegal, but it also highlights the lack of public information and growing distrust concerning government projects and foreign involvement.