Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) MP and Minister of Research, Technology and Atomic Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka said a US military base in the Maldives would give the US an opportunity to monitor the India Ocean, and counter the growing Chinese influence in the region
.“The Indian Ocean region is now the most important region in the struggle for global supremacy and we have become part of that struggle,” Ranawaka said. Ranawaka was responding to queries based on a draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the USA and the Maldives, obtained by the Maldivian current affairs blog Dhivehi Sitee. Ranawaka claimed during the 1980s the US had tried to gain a foothold in the region by establishing a base of operations in Sri Lanka, but India had countered it by launching a ‘proxy war’ using the LTTE. He further said the establishment of such a base had the potential to destabilize not just the Maldives, but the entire region, with a direct impact being felt in Sri Lanka. “We are likely to see a rise in Islamic fundamentalism, as we have seen in any place with a Muslim population where a US military base has been established.
This in turn could plunge the nation into chaos, where any conflict would see not just refugees, but fundamentalist elements making their way to Sri Lanka, which is situated nearest to the Maldives,” he opined.
The proposed agreement between the US and the Maldives will give the US access to and use of, not only the military facility or facilities it intends to establish in the Maldives, but also to aerial ports and sea ports in the island nation. Moreover, US personnel based in the Maldives will have diplomatic privileges, exemptions and immunities equivalent to those afforded to ‘administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic mission’ under the Vienna Convention.
US personnel are also permitted to be armed and in uniform. US personnel and contractors shall also be ‘granted freedom of movement and access to and use of agreed transportation, storage, training, and agreed facilities and areas in connection with activities under this Agreement’. US personnel will also be permitted to import into and export out of the country ‘any personal property, equipment, supplies, material, technology, training or services in connection with activities under the agreement’. Such importation, exportation, and use shall be ‘exempt from any inspection, license or other restriction’.