Maldives on Tuesday said it had to turn down India’s invitation to participate in a joint naval exercise in March because of the emergency situation at home. The island nation, in a statement, maintained that it shared a “long history of excellent defence and military cooperation” with India.

The embassy’s clarification comes after reports that Maldives turned down the invitation as ties between the two countries have been strained over India’s stance on its internal political crisis.

“Maldives is unable to participate in the naval exercise during this time due to the current circumstances of a State of Emergency being in effect for those under investigation for serious crimes,” the embassy said. “During such a time especially, security personnel are expected to be at a heightened stance of readiness.”

Maldives said its naval officers would have in any case participated only as observers. “When situations warrant that officers be at their post, back at home, we have held back on deploying them to participate in exercises and training programs held overseas,” the embassy said, adding, “And as such, not being able to participate in the naval exercise at this time is not extraordinary.”

Milan, the Indian Navy’s biennial exercise, begins in March. The Indian Navy said more than 16 countries have confirmed their participation in the exercise.

The Maldives crisis and India

On February 20, the Maldivian Parliament approved President Abdulla Yameen’s proposal to extend the state of emergency in the country by 30 days. Yameen had first imposed the emergency on February 6, in defiance of a Supreme Court order to release political prisoners. Security forces then stormed the court premises and arrested two judges, including the chief justice.

On February 21, India said it was “deeply dismayed” by the extension of the state of emergency in Maldives.

A day later, Maldives criticised India for calling the Maldivian Parliament’s move unconstitutional. It said India’s assertion was a “clear distortion of facts, which ignore the Constitution and laws of the Maldives”.