India, Seychelles agree to work on Assumption Island naval base project
India and Seychelles said on Monday they would work together on developing a naval base on Assumption Island while keeping “each other’s interests” in mind, days after reports suggested the Indian Ocean archipelago had scrapped an agreement on the project.
Following talks in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Seychelles President Danny Faure said both sides will continue working on the Assumption Island project.
Modi announced a $100-million line of credit that Seychelles can use to acquire Indian defence equipment to boost its maritime capacity. He also said India will provide a second Dornier aircraft for the Seychelles military.
The remarks by both leaders assume significance as Faure had said earlier this month his government had scrapped an agreement with India for setting up a naval base on Assumption. He had also said the project “will not move forward” and the issue wouldn’t be discussed with Modi during his visit.
Two days before the president began his visit, secretary of state for foreign affairs Barry Faure, who is Faure’s brother, told Reuters the government wouldn’t present the agreement on Assumption Island to the National Assembly for “approval because opposition members (who are the majority) have already said they will not ratify it”.
During a joint media interaction with Faure, Modi said: “In the context of the Assumption Island project, we are agreed on working together in each other’s interests.” He did not give details.
Faure added, “In the context of maritime security, Assumption Island was discussed. We are equally engaged and will continue to work together, bearing each other’s interests in mind.”
The first agreement on the project was signed during Modi’s visit to Seychelles in March 2015. Following public protests in Seychelles, the two sides signed a revised agreement in January to build military facilities on the remote island. Under the revised pact valid for 20 years, India was to build an airstrip and a jetty for its navy on Assumption.
Faure is expected to face an uphill task in getting the project ratified by Parliament that is dominated by the opposition, which has been opposing any Indian military presence on Assumption.
India has been working overtime to bolster its naval presence in regional waters to counter China, which last year inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Defence and security issues were a key part of the discussions between the two leaders and Modi said both countries have a “geo-strategic vision for peace, security and stability in the Indian Ocean” and have to contend with various traditional and non-traditional threats.
While working together to derive benefits from a “blue economy”, Modi said the two sides will also have to jointly confront challenges such as piracy, drugs, human trafficking and trans-national crimes.
He added that India will help Seychelles to build a new police headquarters, a new office for the attorney general and a new government house, and that Indian experts will be sent on deputation to the archipelago.
Faure described India as “one of our closest and reliable partners” and said Seychelles will benefit from the line of credit to aid the military and defence forces. He said he and Modi had “expressed our strong desire to elevate our bilateral relations to a more comprehensive partnership of a greater strategic importance”.
The two sides signed six agreements on issues such as infrastructure development in Seychelles, cyber-security, sharing of white shipping information that will enable them to exchange data on the identity and movement of non-military commercial vessels.