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Antony returns from successful Seychelles visit

New Delhi, July 20 (Calcutta Tube) Defence Minister A.K. Antony Tuesday returned home after a two-day trip to the Seychelles aimed at consolidating India’s security ties in the strategic southern Indian Ocean.

The defence minister during his stay in the archipelago nation committed that India will help in conducting maritime safety operations in the Seychelles and supply three aircraft for surveillance in the region that is plagued by the threats of increasing piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden.

A new Dornier and two Chetak helicopters from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for maritime surveillance will be given within 15 months and till then India will provide an in-service Dornier aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance in the region, according to a defence spokesperson.

Antony held a range of talks with the Seychellois leadership on strengthening India’s strategic ties in the southern Indian Ocean where Chinese interest for naval activism is growing rapidly.

The minister had a series of meetings with Seychelles President James Alix Michel, Vice President Danny Faure, Home Minister Joel Morgan and Foreign Minister Jean Paul Adam in the country’s largest island of Mahe.

The two countries agreed to ‘take forward their cooperation to tackle the spread of piracy in the Indian Ocean region’, the spokesperson said.

Antony reiterated India’s assurance, as conveyed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during President Michel’s visit to India early June, for continued cooperation in all fields particularly in the field of defence and security.

Manmohan Singh had announced a $5 million assistance package for defence related projects in the Seychelles.

Antony also committed that the Indian Navy will make additional visits this year to conduct surveillance and hydrographic surveys in the region.

Seychelles navy personnel would be allowed on board Indian Navy ships for maintenance training and conduct drills and exercises. Antony also agreed to offer help for capacity building of the Seychelles forces.

Antony’s trip, a first by any Indian defence minister, came close on the heels of the visit by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna earlier this month.

In June, President Michel was in India to discuss security issues, including the maritime security situation in the Indian Ocean region, particularly in the context of the spread of piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden.

The visit signals the importance India attaches to the island state on the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean.

India had signed a defence cooperation pact with the Seychelles in 2003 and has been providing training and equipment to the forces of the country.

The Indian Navy also makes frequent port calls in the nation comprising some 150 islands.

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