Seychelles- India relations

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2018

January, Seychelles allows India to build military infrastructure

Indrani Bagchi, January 28, 2018: The Times of India


Overcoming a hiccup, India and Seychelles signed a revised agreement that will allow India to build military infrastructure on Assumption Island, that will expand its strategic reach in the Indian Ocean. 
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar signed the agreement in Victoria on Saturday. 

In a statement, Jaishankar said, "India and Seychelles have drawn up a cooperation agenda that covers within its purview joint efforts in anti-piracy operations, and enhanced EEZ surveillance and monitoring to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders indulging in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking. The cooperation is further exemplified by the operationalisation of the Coastal Surveillance Radar System in March 2016, and our commitment to augment Seychelles' defence assets and capability. " 

After meeting Jaishankar, the island nation's President, Danny Faure, said "Today we will sign a revised version of the Agreement for the development of facilities on Assumption Island. This project is of utmost importance to Seychelles, and it attests to the kinship and affinity that exists between our two countries. We are proud to have India as a partner in realising our development aspirations." 

The agreement had been signed in 2015 during the visit of PM Modi but it ran into trouble because it had not been ratified by the Seychelles parliament by the previous president, James Michel. The first sign that the agreement was in trouble came in August 2017, when Faure said in a press conference that it would have to be re-negotiated.

"We would like to relook at the agreement which does not have a legal statute on the Seychelles side. But for India, it has a legal statute. We have to go back to the drawing board." 

That took Jaishankar to Seychelles in October, and the two sides restarted discussions on amendments to the agreement. The negotiations were completed after the Seychelles opposition party gave a thumbs up to it. 

Faure worked with the opposition and after including several amendments cleared it with his cabinet on January 22. A statement after the Seychelles cabinet meeting said, "Cabinet agreed on the main purpose of the agreement which is to provide a framework for assistance to the Government of Seychelles by the Government of India to enhance the military capabilities in control and maritime surveillance of our EEZ, protection of our EEZ and the outer islands and search and rescue in the region for the benefit of air and shipping traffic." After the signing, the agreement would be ratified by Seychelles parliament. The ratification is expected to be a formality because the new agreement has been agreed to by both government and opposition. 

The agreement is very important for India, as it works hard to mark a military presence on both Seychelles and Mauritius (Agalega island), in its drive to extend its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean. 

The Faure government put the brakes on the agreement with India in 2017 — after the 2016 elections, Faure's party, People's Party lost their majority in parliament, which went to the opposition coalition, Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS). Its leader, Indian-origin Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan was important to build political consensus on the agreement. 

During his recent visit to India as part of the PIO parliamentarians conference in New Delhi, Ramkalawan indicated that a consensus had been achieved and the deal would be done shortly. The signing of the agreement is among the last actions by Jaishankar, who will be replaced by Vijay Gokhale as foreign secretary. 

The importance of the agreement this time is that it will be more solid, having full political approval from both ruling and opposition parties in Seychelles.

March, Indian naval base stirs controversy in Seychelles

March 3, 2018: The Times of India


HIGHLIGHTS

The base on Assumption Island is to be funded by India and shared by the two countries' militaries

The deal was struck in principle in 2015 during a visit to the Seychelles by India's prime minister Narendra Modi, but progress since has been slow

India plans to invest $550 million dollars (446 million euros) in building the base to help it ensure the safety of its vessels in the southern Indian Ocean.


A plan for India to build a military base on an outlying Seychelles island has won favour among the archipelago nation's politicians, but some hostility from its people. The base on Assumption Island is to be funded by India and shared by the two countries' militaries.

The deal was struck in principle in 2015 during a visit to the Seychelles by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but progress since has been slow.

The government of the Seychelles, based in Victoria on Mahe Island 1,135 kilometres (705 miles) northeast of Assumption, says the base will help coastguards to patrol its 1.3 million square kilometre (500,000 square mile) exclusive economic zone for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy.

Currently, the remote coral island has a tin shack post office, an air strip and almost no people, it is less than seven kilometres long, has a high point just 30 metres (100 feet) above sea level and is covered in bird excrement.

But its location lends it strategic importance for monitoring shipping in the Mozambique Channel.

India plans to invest $550 million dollars (446 million euros) in building the base to help it ensure the safety of its vessels in the southern Indian Ocean. It also says the base will be a resource for other shipping nations.

"Assumption is very close to the Mozambique Channel where much of the international trade is transiting, and not just for India but for other countries as well, and our interest is that our trading vessels are safe," said India's ambassador in Victoria, Ausaf Sayeed.

India has had a military cooperation agreement with the Seychelles since 2003 and the deal would give it use of the Assumption base for up to 30 years. Indian soldiers would be deployed on the island and help train Seychelles' troops.

But ratification of the 2015 agreement has been slow with a new, amended pact only signed between the two countries on January 27.

"What we did in relation to the first agreement is to clarify some points that could give rise to litigation," said Frank Ally, the Seychelles' attorney general.

He said these included a prohibition on any nuclear uses of the island or weapons storage. India is also not allowed to use Assumption in war.

Seeking to allay fears the government has made available to the public some details of the classified defence agreement.

Nevertheless, the project remains controversial with small weekly demonstrations in the capital.

Indian presence in the Seychelles is a sensitive matter. Some fear an influx of Indian workers who, they say, might come to dominate the economy, while others consider a foreign power building a military base an affront to sovereignty and national pride.

"The Seychelles can make its own military base, I am against any foreign military presence!" said Guilmert Corgat, a businessman in Victoria who attended a town hall meeting on the plan in late February.

"If this deal is so good for the Seychelles, why don't we hold a referendum?" asked Alexia Amesbury, a lawyer.

During the discussions foreign minister Barry Faure was forced to insist the government was not giving the island away, "because Assumption belongs to the Seychelles".

Opponents of the plan also cite Assumption's relative proximity to Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the world's largest population of giant tortoises.

March, Seychelles opposition vetoes Indian military infrastructure on Assumption

Indrani Bagchi, Seychelles oppn blocks military deal with India, March 28, 2018: The Times of India


India is losing ground in Seychelles. Two months after India and the Seychelles signed a revised agreement for the building of military infrastructure on Assumption Island, the Seychelles opposition has refused to allow it to be ratified by their parliament.

In his first press conference on Sunday, Seychelles president Danny Faure acknowledged the opposition to the agreement and announced he would not present it to the national assembly in April as planned. He said he had been told that he had been told by the leader of the opposition, Wavel John Charles Ramkalawan and ruling party members that they would not allow the agreement to go through “in its present form”. Faure was in India recently to participate in the inaugural summit of the International Solar Alliance (ISA).

“It is therefore not proper for me to send the agreement to the Speaker when the Leader of the Opposition, who is in majority in the Assembly, has signalled he will not ratify it,” Faure was quoted as saying. Faure refuted the perception of the agreement creating a military base for India on Assumption, saying it was actually a “Seychelles Coast Guard facility.” There has been public protests against India in Seychelles for the past couple of months raising fears that India would appropriate the island.

Ramkalawan was quoted by news agencies as saying, “I hope I have made it clear that this is the end of the Assumption agreement and that I don’t expect to see it on any agenda between President Faure and the opposition.”

In early March, an online leaked version of the agreement created a furore in the Indian Ocean island nation, leading to an official investigation. When questioned, MEA spokesperson said, “Assumption Island Project in Seychelles is a joint project that India is executing at the request of the Government of Seychelles. The objective is to assist Seychelles secure the vast EEZ, including near Mozambique Channel, located over a thousand kilometres from the main island of Mahe. The proposed facility will be owned by Seychelles and jointly managed by both sides.”

The agreement had been signed in 2015 during the visit of PM Modi but it ran into trouble because it had not been ratified by the Seychelles parliament by the previous president, James Michel. Faure worked with the opposition and after including several amendments, cleared it with his cabinet on January 22. The agreement is very important for India, as it works hard to mark a military presence on both Seychelles and Mauritius (Agalega island), in its drive to extend its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean.

Interestingly, India had invited the Indian-origin opposition leader Ramkalawan to India to build political ties with his party. Those conversations had been important in building the consensus to clear the revised agreement. But Ramkalawan refused to let the pact go through. India will have to work harder to win support for the plan, particularly as China too is finding its feet in this country, with deeper pockets.

June, Seychelles cancels Assumption Island military facility agreement

Seychelles nixes military facility deal with India, June 17, 2018: The Times of India


Even as India gears up to welcome Seychelles president Danny Faure for a state visit here on June 25, Seychelles has cancelled the agreement with New Delhi to build a military facility on Assumption Island.

In a press conference earlier this month, Seychelles president Danny Faure said he would not discuss the Assumption Island project with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit. Announcing that the project was dead for all intent and purposes, he said Seychelles would build it with its own funds next year.

“In next year’s budget, we will put aside funds for us to build a (Seychelles) Coast Guard facility on Assumption ourselves. It is important to ensure we have a military post in this area,” Faure said. Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale travelled to Victoria recently but was apparently unable to revive the deal, which was renegotiated and signed by his predecessor S Jaishankar in January. By the end of the visit, it became apparent the deal could not be rescued.

Media reports from Seychelles said the government blamed Indian-origin opposition leader Ramkalawan, who had agreed to it after a visit to India but later reneged on his approval. The deal cannot go through without the opposition being on board.

However, India will try to work out a different deal with Seychelles, sources said. A defence portal said Seychelles might be looking at a maritime security deal with France instead. This was aired by senior French defence officials in Seychelles, saying France needed a military base in Seychelles to protect French citizens in the Indian Ocean region.

Earlier this year, India signed a logistics agreement with France in the Indian Ocean, giving India access to French bases in the region.

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