The Seychelles opposition coalition, which holds a majority in parliament, said Tuesday it would not ratify a deal signed with India to build a military base on one of the archipelago’s outlying islands.
The 20-year deal would see India invest $550 million dollars in building the base on Assumption island to help it ensure the safety of of Indian vessels in the southern Indian Ocean.
Indian soldiers would be deployed on the island which lies 1,135 kilometres (705 miles) southwest of the capital Victoria, between Madagascar and the east African coast. India would also help train Seychelles’ troops under the agreement.
However the deal has faced resistance from locals concerned about the lack of transparency surrounding the agreement, the dilution of the country’s sovereignty, as well as environmental impacts. The base will include an airport and will cover around a quarter of the island, which is near Aldabra atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises.
Others opponents fear an influx of Indian workers who might come to dominate the economy. Weekly protests occur in Victoria on the island of Mahe each week.
The remote coral island – less than seven kilometres long and with a high point just 30 m (100 feet) above sea level – has a tin shack post office, an air strip and few people, but its location gives it strategic importance for monitoring shipping in the Mozambique Channel.
Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (Seychelles Democratic Union), on Tuesday said the party will have nothing more to do with the Assumption deal and that it “will not ratify the agreement,” Seychelles News Agency reported.
“…where LDS is concerned the agreement on Assumption is dead,” Ramkalawan said.
However, SNA also reported Ramkalawan as saying that the LDS will not ratify the agreement “as is.”
LDS president Roger Mancienne earlier said the party had “taken a number of things into consideration, including protests against this project.”
The LDS won a parliamentary majority in 2016 elections, but this is the first time the opposition has taken a stand against a government program.
On Monday, President Danny Faure said he would meet with Ramkalawan on March 26 to discuss the deal, which was agreed in principle in 2015 and then finalised in January this year.
Faure warned in his State of the Nation address on March 6 that the country remains vulnerable to drug trafficking and illegal exploitation natural resources.
“Our maritime area is vast, and we need to regain control of our territory,” Faure said.
Faure said the Seychelles vast Exclusive Economic Zone – around 1.37 million square kilometres – makes it difficult to detect illegal activities.
The government says the base will help coastguards to patrol the EEZ for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy.
Controversy over the deal increased the day after Faure’s speech, when the original agreement was leaked on social media.
With reporting from AFP