The Seychelles is supposed to become the host of an Indian naval base in the Indian Ocean. The tourism industry on these islands is fuming, because a UNESCO World Heritage site is only steps from the proposed base.
Some fear taking sides with India, and the Seychelles government is opening a can of worms and making itself a future target for others unhappy with this project – for example, China.
To make it worse, a top-secret document outlining the whole truth has now been leaked. It is believed the leak is the work of an insider within the Seychelles government.
The classified agreement was leaked online via YouTube by a user named Partu Kote. The video includes URLs to 3 Google Drive folders with the entire text of the final agreement and a secret side letter from Seychelles to India in 2015 which outlines the conditions under which Indian military personnel would operate.
This leak is a major breach as the full text of the agreement has not officially been made public, and the two governments had only shared it within themselves on a limited basis. The video also includes photographs of pages of the classified Detailed Project Report (DPR) as well as site drawings for the airfield and other installations.
The video has set off alarm bells in the Indian establishment because of the inclusion of pages from the DPR that show the design, dimensions, and location of some of the buildings on the islands like the air traffic tower and airstrip. This could require revision of the plans and, therefore, further delay the implementation of the project.
The military base is to be built on Assumption Island of Seychelles about 1,135 kilometers southwest of the capital, Victoria, on Mahé Island. Assumption is a pristine group of four large coral islands that has been unspoiled by human activities and is considered to be an important natural habitat to study evolutionary and ecological processes. Protests against the military base are being led by the “Save the Aldabra Island Group” (SAIG), where the former Seychelles Tourism Minister, Alain St. Ange, is a key figure. An Indian official who wants to remain anonymous has acknowledged they have been monitoring the protests.
India will build, maintain, and operate the base, while its ownership rights will vest with the Seychelles. India will also at its own cost train the Seychellois military personnel and also conduct joint military exercises. India will also appoint a navy officer to oversee the operations and maintenance of the base, and Indian personnel deployed there will wear IAF uniforms and carry personal weapons.
On January 27, Seychelles President Barry Faure signed a pact with the Indian government’s Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, on the development of the military base. India’s Foreign Secretary is making it clear that the military will be on Assumption only at Seychelles government’s request, adding that this facility will offer a strategic advantage to India, especially with the China’s growing interest in the region. The Secretary cites the ability to combat piracy and be located in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes as additional benefits.
The pact, besides prohibiting any nuclear weapons on vessels, aircraft, or other platforms, also says the facilities will not be used “in any way whatsoever for the purposes of war” or for the storing of weapons, arms, and ammunition. The Indo-Seychelles pact now has to be ratified by India’s Union Cabinet and by Seychelles’ Cabinet of Ministers as well as by the National Assembly. On ratification, the pact will be valid for 20 years.