New Delhi, Feb 27: Maldives, a regular participant in the biennial Milan Naval Exercise conducted by India, turned down New Delhi's invitation to participate this year.

Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said Male has conveyed its decision of not taking part in the naval drill beginning from March 6. The southern neighbour has not cited any reason for skipping the event, he added.

The Milan naval drill, to be hosted by the Andaman and Nicobar Wing of the Indian Navy, will feature the participation of 16 nations, including Australia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Vietnam, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya and Cambodia.

The beiniell navy exercise would be conducted off the coast of Port of Blair between March 6-13. Apart from the professional exercises to be conducted by the participating nations, a slew of seminars, keynote addresses, social events and sporting fixtures have been scheduled.

The social interactions planned for the event include exhibitions by the Indian Army, Navy, display of state-of-the-art ships and cultural meetings. Among those events which will be available for public attendance include skydiving, beating the retreat and naval continuity drill.

Rift widening between Maldives and India?

Regarding each other as "natural allies" over the past 50 years, the relations between New Delhi and Male have been turning sour over the past couple of years. Maldives' growing proximity with China - allowing Beijing to conduct naval drills in its vicinity and granting it the status of most favoured nations for bilateral trade - had an inverse impact on its relationship with India.

The relations turned worse following the political crisis in Maldives, with India backing the Supreme Court order which overturned the sentence against exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed and reinstated the membership of 12 rebel lawmakers.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Feb 27, 2018 01:27 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website