95. Telegram 1387 From the Embassy in Sri Lanka to the Department of State 1 2


  • British Withdrawal from RAF Gan: Maldivian Reaction


SUMMARY: Senior Maldivian officials are disturbed over status of employees and facilities at former RAF staging facility on Gan Island which have become their problem with final British withdrawal March 31. Hopes that British would provide money to maintain operation have not been realized no do prospects of converting Han into tourist complex appear good. President Nasir claimed GOM cannot maintain burden over time and Vice President Maniku noted that Soviet Union had expressed interest in Gan, presumably for military purposes. Neither Nasir nor Maniku ruled [Page 2] out possibility that such use might be granted. We are not certain GOM would in fact come to agreement with soviet but we recommend Washington examine how Soviet military use of Gan might affect U.S. interests. END SUMMARY
During Ambassador Van Hollen’s April 14–15 farewell visit to Maldives, discussions with senior Maldivians brought out deep concern over problems arising from March 31 final British withdrawal from RAF Gan. At start of Ambassador’s call on President Nasir, President raised Gan noting that although other economic prospects for his country had improved, Gan had become difficult problem. He said GOM had to maintain work force of 140 men merely to keep facilities in working order with no return to Maldivians, Nasir mentioned possibility that Gan might be turned into tourist complex but then noted that business would be seasonal, would require large annual investment for limited returns during tourist months and he doubted whether charter tour operators would be willing to cover yearly costs. Only solution, according to Nasir, was to workout some type of agreement either with commercial organizations or with some other country. In reply to Ambassador’s direct query whether agreements would be in tourist context rather than military use, President was [Page 3] noncommittal and did not rule out third country use for military purposes.
Subject of Gan arose again during Ambassador’s call on Vice President Ali Maniku who has been carrying on negotiations with British regarding Gan withdrawal. Maniku stated problem in these terms: although British had left assets on Gan in form of facilities and equipment worth over 11 million pounds, GOM will have to spend 46,000 pounds per year to maintain facilities in running order, cost which GOM cannot sustain over time. Talks have been held with various groups with view to developing Gan as tourist complex, but nothing, concrete has come out of them. Maniku insisted the present situation could not continue. He said Maldivians would prefer not to have to turn to any major power to solve Gan problem. However, to maintain Gan at no cost to GOM, and employment found some way must be found for trained labor from RAF Gan who were now out of work and who had been used to higher British salaries. Maniku implied British had left workers in lurch and he made it clear that GOM no longer considers defense treaty with HMG valid.
When asked by Ambassador whether Can’s use for other than for tourist purposes would be contemplated, Maniku said GOM would have to solve [Page 4] problem in whatever way was open to it. If British/Americans refused to accept responsibility for maintaining Gan, and if no group was interested in developing Gan as tourist complex, then GOM would have whomever might help. He said Soviets had expressed interest in Gan but did not go into details. When Ambassador suggested Indians might not necessarily be pleased with Soviet use, Maniku reiterated that Soviets had shown interest and suggested that Indians, who he pictured as being heavily under Soviet influence, might be planning some sort of joint use with Soviets.
COMMENT: Problem of what to do with Gan is obviously weighing heavily on minds of many senior Maldivians. It is difficult to judge whether they although would, in fact, turn Gan over to Russians, neither President Nasir nor Vice President Maniku would rule out this possibility. In view Maldivian requirement that programs or projects should pay their own way, GOM might well be tempted to enter arrangement with Soviets, Indians or others for military use of Gan facilities if it felt price was right.
Action Recommended: We recommend that Washington agencies promptly take another close look at Gan and consider (A) degree to which its use by unfriendly power would adversely affect U.S. interests, [Page 5] particularly with reference to its proximity to Diego Garcia and U.S. objectives in Indian Ocean and (B) alternatives for U.S. policy.
Van Hollen
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Confidential. It was repeated to Islamabad, London, New Delhi, Tehran, Moscow, and CINCPAC. It was drafted by Kay (POL); cleared by DATT; and approved by Perkins. Saxbe subsequently reported that India had no interest in the Gan facility and argued that India would resist any Soviet use of Gan. (Telegram 6234 from New Delhi, April 29; Ibid.) The London Embassy assured the Department in telegram 6564, April 29, that Maldivian Vice President Ali Maniku had specifically ruled out any third-party military use of the Gan facility. (Ibid.)
  2. President Ibrahim Nasir of the Maldives discussed with Ambassador Van Hollen the economic and political problems arising from the British abandonment of Gan, and mentioned Soviet interest in the base. The Embassy recommended that the Department consider the issue carefully, given the proximity of Gan to Diego Garcia.