MNDF Plays Down Ammunition Find

by Judith Evans in Malé

(March 20, Male, Sri Lanka Guardian) The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) on Wednesday said the discovery of live ammunition on the uninhabited island of Gaaf Dhaal Gazeera was “nothing to panic about”, and that it was “not the first time” such a discovery had been made.

MNDF spokesperson Major Ibrahim Afsal said, “During the change of season, the eastern monsoon, these things do float around.”

He added the source of the ammunition could have been Sri Lankan forces or warships carrying out military exercises in the Indian Ocean.

Witness reports had indicated the find also included guns, whilst police had initially refused to confirm the nature of the discovery, which was made by a safari yacht touring the area on Monday.

But Afsal said on Wednesday that “one box of ammunition” had been found, and was thought to have washed up from the ocean.

Meanwhile the captain of the safari yacht Handhu, who discovered the ammunition, said he had visited the island the previous day and found nothing suspicious.

But returning on Monday with a Welsh tourist, he discovered “boxes” on the beach, though he was unable to confirm how many were present.

Afsal ruled out the MNDF itself as the source of the live rounds, saying “we do take good care of these things”, and adding there are “procedures” to ensure no military equipment goes missing.

He was unable to confirm whether the ammunition was of a type used by the MNDF, but an individual previously connected with the armed forces told the Minivan News, male based news agency, it was not.

Several nations carry out military exercises in international waters outside the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, according to Afsal, who added that the find was “very very small” for the MNDF.

Afsal declined to comment on whether the ammunition might be related to a Tamil Tiger (LTTE) vessel sunk in Gaaf Dhaal atoll in 2007. Four LTTE members from the boat were later convicted of smuggling arms into the Maldives.

Live rounds such as those discovered could be hazardous, Afsal said, advising the public not to handle any ammunition they might discover.
- Sri Lanka Guardian