The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has assured the public that there is no foreign military personnel on Uthuru Thilhafalhu (UTF). This comes in response to the opposition’s claims of Indian military presence in the Maldives, which has also been one of the mainstays of their ‘India Out’ campaign.

“This is not a military development. It is a port. Large coast guard vessels will dock here for repairs… There will be full control of the MNDF here. There are no foreign troops here and there never will be foreign troops here,” an MNDF official assured local media. Any military presence on the port and the island will be that of MNDF soldiers, the MNDF official said.

This comes at a time when the government has continued to receive heavy criticism for taking a ‘national security’ stance in being unwilling to share details of the UTF agreement entered into with India, a stance that the ‘India Out’ movement has capitalised on to stir up transparency concerns, as well as concerns over sovereignty and India’s ‘growing influence’ over the Maldives.

Opposition figures continue to characterise the UTF project as an Indian military base where the nation’s troops are stationed with heavy artillery and where the MNDF has little or no influence without India’s permission. The government categorically denies the opposition’s claims and has reassured the public that such allegations are unfounded.

Last week, Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Abdulla Shamaal also reassured the public that UTF was under MNDF control and that the MNDF would do nothing to jeopardise national sovereignty.