Mauritius has denied a media report that it allowed India to build a military base on its island of Agalega, AFP reported on Thursday.
On Tuesday, an Al Jazeera article showed satellite pictures to report that two large jetties and a 3-km-long runway was being built in Agalega, located about 1,100 km from Mauritius’ main island. The report said that the airstrip will “almost certainly” be used for maritime patrol missions by India’s Navy.
Defence experts quoted by the news website also backed Al Jazeera’s report.
“It’s an intelligence facility for India to stage air and naval presence in order to increase surveillance in the wider South West Indian Ocean and Mozambique channel,” Abhishek Mishra, associate fellow at think tank Observer Research Foundation, said.
However, Ken Arian, a communications adviser to Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth denied any such development. “There is no agreement between Mauritius and India for the creation of a military base in Agalega,” Arian said, according to AFP.
Arian added that work was under way on two projects – a jetty and a 3-km airstrip – but they were not to be used for military purposes. The two projects were agreed upon during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the African island country in 2015, Arian said.
Relevance of Agalega
The Al Jazeera report had also mentioned that Mauritius has denied claims about the military base in Agalega, an island that is home for 300 citizens.
The Mauritian government told the website that the construction was taken up to improve “the inadequate infrastructure facilities” on the island. They insisted that Agalega would remain “under the control of the Mauritian authorities”.
In a Parliament session in May, Jugnauth too had categorically denied that the construction is for military purposes.
However, Samuel Bashfield, a researcher at the National Security College at the Australian National University, told Al Jazeera that the island is “an absolutely perfect spot for a military base”.
“The southwest Indian Ocean is an area where it’s important for India to have areas where their aircraft can support their ships, and also where it has areas it can use as launching pads for operations,” Bashfield said.
Observer Research Foundation’s Abhishek Mishra, meanwhile, said that India was concerned about China acquiring its first overseas base in 2017 in the African country Djibouti. He said that India would not like to be seen as also supporting militarisation of the region.
“...For us [India] then to go and do the same thing [as China] would be hypocritical,” Mishra told Al Jazeera. “So at the most what we can say is this base will certainly have some military elements, but mostly, it will be used for operational turnover.”