Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has informed parliament’s opposition-dominated Executive Oversight Committee that the government will not sign the current draft of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States.
Nazim alleged that a leaked draft of the agreement had been “doctored”, according to local media, however he refused to share the current draft with the committee.
The government would only share the draft with the National Security Committee, Attorney General Aisthath Bisham told the oversight committee.
“It’s just a draft, and is at a very infant stage,” Nazim was reported to have told the committee. “We discussed it with relevant government authorities. I myself don’t believe that the draft can be finalised without making the necessary amendments.”
Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has also opposed the signing of the SOFA agreement.
“There is no way that the SOFA agreement can be signed, allowing foreign forces to stay on our land. Nor can we allow them to make the Maldives a destination in which to refuel their ships,” Shaheem stated previously on social media.
“The reason is, the US might attempt to use the Maldives as a centre when they are attacking another Muslim state. There is no way we will let that happen,” he said, asserting that he “will not compromise on the matter at all”.
The leaked draft of the proposed SOFA with between the Maldives and the US “incorporates the principal provisions and necessary authorisations for the temporary presence and activities of United States forces in the Republic of Maldives and, in the specific situations indicated herein, the presence and activities of United States contractors in the Republic of Maldives.”
Under the proposed 10 year agreement outlined in the draft, the Maldives would “furnish, without charge” to the United States unspecified “Agreed Facilities and Areas”, and “such other facilities and areas in the territory and territorial seas of the Republic of Maldives as may be provided by the Republic of Maldives in the future.”
“The Republic of the Maldives authorizes United States forces to exercise all rights and authorities with Agreed Facilities and Areas that are necessary for their use, operation, defense or control, including the right to undertake new construction works and make alterations and improvements,” the document states.
The US would be authorised to “control entry” to areas provided for its “exclusive use”, and would be permitted to operate its own telecommunications system and use the radio spectrum “free of cost to the United States”.
The US would also be granted access to and use of “aerial ports, sea ports and agreed facilities for transit, support and related activities; bunkering of ships, refueling of aircraft, maintenance of vessels, aircraft, vehicles and equipment, accommodation of personnel, communications, ship visits, training, exercises, humanitarian activities.”
US authorities have reiterated they have no intention to establish a base in the Maldives, and emphasised that the SOFA is a standard agreement used for conducting joint military exercises.
Former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, told the Press Trust of India in May that the agreement referred to joint military exercises and not a future base-building endeavor.
“We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives,” Blake said, echoing an earlier statement from the US Embassy in Colombo.
“As I said, we have exercise programs very frequently and we anticipate that those would continue. But we do not anticipate any permanent military presence. Absolutely no bases of any kind,” Blake said.
“I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new uptick in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence. It would just be to support our ongoing activities,” he said.