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Seychelles opposition to block India military deal, despite possible $550m

Victoria, Seychelles — The Seychelles opposition coalition, which holds a majority in parliament, said on Tuesday it would not ratify a deal signed with India to build a military base on one of the archipelago’s outlying islands.

The deal would see India invest $550m in building the base on Assumption island to help it ensure the safety of its vessels in the southern Indian Ocean.

Indian soldiers would be deployed on the island which lies 1,135km south-west of the capital Victoria, and help train Seychelles’ troops.

However, the deal has faced some resistance from locals, and Wavel Ramkalawan, head of the opposition Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS — Seychelles Democratic Union in Creole) said the coalition “will not ratify the Assumption deal. This deal is dead”.

The LDS has held a majority in parliament since its victory in 2016 legislative elections. 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 finalised in January this year.

The government says the base will help coast guards to patrol its 1.3-million km² exclusive economic zone for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy.

Currently, the remote coral island has a tin-shack post office, an airstrip and almost no people. Less than 7km long, the island has a high point just 30m above sea level and is covered in bird excrement. However, its location lends it strategic importance for monitoring shipping in the Mozambique Channel.

However, Indian presence in the Seychelles is a sensitive matter. Some fear an influx of Indian workers who, they say, might come to dominate the economy, while others consider a foreign power building a military base an affront to sovereignty and national pride.

Opponents of the plan also cite Assumption’s relative proximity to Aldabra atoll, a Unesco World Heritage Site that is home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises.