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We need a referendum to sort out the confusion over Assumption and India's plan for a military base

16th March 2018

Protest: Campaigners against India's military presence on Assumption call for a referendum
Protest: Campaigners against India's military presence on Assumption call for a referendum

By Lewis Betsy

 

I thought the Seychelles government was committed to transparency in its dealings. Then came the issue of Assumption Island and India's plans to build a military base there.

What a sorry mess that is. No wonder there has been such a storm of protest.

The whole affair has been so badly handled I despair.

I am so angry that until I am convinced it is a good thing for Seychelles I will loudly say No to the project and urge everyone else to do the same.

I believe that we need a referendum on the matter.

President Danny Faure is calling on the National Assembly to ratify the joint agreement between Seychelles and India. He says it will help Seychelles Coast Guards monitor the surrounding sea in the area known as the Economic Exclusive Zone for piracy and drug smuggling.

This all sounds good, but there has been secrecy and what I consider to be underhand diplomacy at work. This agreement was first formulated in 2015.

The government should have told the Seychellois people about the issue then. Yet there was silence. Now almost two and a half year later they want to push this agreement quickly through and they want the people of Seychelles to say yes to it straight away. 

No, I say. No.

During the past few weeks, government officials have tried all sorts of ways to sell the Assumption agreement to the people of Seychelles. I think there is something fishy about the arrangement.

We should not be knocked over so easily.

I fully sympathise with all the demonstrators, including those from the Save the Aldabra Island Group (SAIG) who took their protest to the National Assembly precinct at Ile Du Port.

Yes, we need a force to deal with illegal fishing, drug trafficking, and piracy in the area.

Yes, we need a base to protect our islands but we have our Coast Guard and Armed Forces that can and should be fully engaged in such protection.

I think the government should take more time to explain why we need this military base.

We need at least six to nine months to go round the islands and talk to the people of Seychelles so that everyone can understand what is going on and then take a vote on whether we think it is what we actually need.

I say we should have our uniformed officers looking after our islands. We don't want a military base run by a foreign power on our land.

Mr Faure is hoping the National Asssembly will back the agreement in April. In his State of the Nation address he said: “Drug trafficking on our waters is a major problem. Illegal exploitation of our resources is a major problem. Our maritime area is vast, and we need to regain control of our territory.

“Assumption is the best possible location for a facility for our Coast Guard. A Coast Guard facility on a section of Assumption will protect Aldabra, Astove, and Cosmoledo, and provide the security that the country urgently needs in this corner of our territory. The remainder of Assumption will be reserved for a tourism development.”

He explained: “Taking into account our friendship with India, and good military cooperation with the SPDF (Seychelles People's Defence Force) for more than 35 years, the Government of Seychelles approached the Government of India for assistance in the construction of this facility. The construction of this facility will be financed by the Government of India. It will be managed jointly by SPDF and the Indian Naval Force for 20 years.

He made a point of saying: “Assumption belongs to Seychelles and Seychellois. Land on Assumption has not been sold or leased to the Government of India.”

Yet getting the NA's ratification won't be easy. 

The Leader of the Opposition, Wavel Ramkalawan, said: “All MNAs of Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) and their advisers have agreed that we will not ratify the agreement as is.”

He added: “LDS believes that Seychelles should have a facility for our Coast Guard to patrol our southwestern territory and as an Assembly, we will support this part of the budget. This falls in line with our vision, that all efforts should be placed in the development of our Coast Guard.”

So today I am left frustrated and disappointed by it all. 

And if we want an example of how things can go wrong when other countries involve Seychelles in their military strategies, I say look at what happened to the people of Chagos. 

Around 2,000 were forcibly evicted from the archipelago in 1960 when the British Government leased the main island, Diego Garcia, to the United States to use as a military base.

In 2018, the Chagossians are still fighting for their right to go back to their home.

Lewis Betsy, Publisher, Seychelles Life
Lewis Betsy, Publisher, Seychelles Life

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