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1988 Maldives coup d'état
IAF IL-76 Hawaii.JPG
An Indian Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft of the model used to paradrop Indian troops in Male.
DateNovember 3, 1988
LocationMaldives, Indian Ocean
Result Decisive Indian/Maldivian victory
Government rule restored in Maldives
India India
Maldives Maldives
Bandera del PLOTE (Tàmils).svg People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam
Maldives Maldivian rebels
Commanders and leaders
India President Ramaswamy Venkataraman
India Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi
MaldivesPresident Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
MaldivesDefence Minister Ilyas Ibrahim
India Brigadier Farouk Bulsara
India Colonel Subhash Joshi
MaldivesMajor Ambaree Abdul Sattar
MaldivesMajor Mohamed Zahir
MaldivesMajor Adam Zahir
Maldives Lieutenant Moosa Ali Jaleel
Bandera del PLOTE (Tàmils).svgUma Maheswaran
Bandera del PLOTE (Tàmils).svgWasanti
MaldivesAbdullah Luthufi (POW)
MaldivesSagaru Ahmed Nasir (POW)
MaldivesAhmed Ismail Manik Sikka (POW)
1,600 paratroopers 80-100 gunmen

The 1988 Maldives coup d'état, whose rescue efforts were code-named Operation Cactus by the Indian armed forces, was the attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by armed mercenaries of a Tamil secessionist organisation from Sri Lanka, the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), to overthrow the government in the island republic of Maldives. The coup d'état failed due to the intervention of the Indian Army.


Whereas the 1980 and 1983 coup d'état attempts against Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's presidency were not considered serious, the third coup d'état attempt in November 1988 alarmed the international community. About 80 armed PLOTE mercenaries [1] landed in the capital Malé before dawn aboard speedboats from a freighter. Disguised as visitors, a similar number had already infiltrated Malé earlier. The mercenaries quickly gained control of the capital, including the major government buildings, airport, port and television and radio stations. However, they failed to capture President Gayoom, who fled from house to house and asked for military intervention from India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi immediately dispatched 1,600 troops by air to restore order in Malé.[2]

Operation Cactus

The operation started on the night of November 3, 1988, when Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft of the Indian Air Force airlifted the elements of the 50th Independent Parachute Brigade, commanded by Brig Farukh Bulsara, the 6th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, and, the 17th Parachute Field Regiment from Agra Air Force Station and flew them non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,240 mi) to air-drop them over the Malé International Airport on Hulhule Island. The Indian Army paratroopers arrived on Hulhule less than 12 hours after the appeal from President Gayoom.[2][3]

The Indian paratroopers immediately secured the airfield, crossed over to Male using commandeered boats and rescued President Gayoom. The paratroopers restored control of the capital to President Gayoom's government within hours. Some of the mercenaries fled toward Sri Lanka in a hijacked freighter. Those unable to reach the ship in time were quickly rounded up and handed over to the Maldives government. Nineteen people reportedly died in the fighting, most of them mercenaries. The dead included two hostages killed by the mercenaries. The Indian Navy frigates Godavari and Betwa intercepted the freighter off the Sri Lankan coast, and captured the mercenaries. Swift operation by the military and precise intelligence information successfully quelled the attempted coup d'état in the island nation.[4]


In July 1989, India repatriated the mercenaries captured on board the hijacked freighter to Maldives to stand trial. President Gayoom commuted the death sentences passed against them to life imprisonment under Indian pressure.[5]

The 1988 coup d'état had been headed by a once prominent Maldivian businessperson named Abdullah Luthufi, who was operating a farm on Sri Lanka. Former Maldivian President Ibrahim Nasir was accused, but denied any involvement in the coup d'état. In fact, in July 1990, President Gayoom officially pardoned Nasir in absentia in recognition of his role in obtaining Maldives' independence.[4]

The operation also strengthened Indo-Maldivian relations as a result of the successful restoration of the Gayoom government.

See also


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