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Maldives asks India to withdraw troops by March 15



Maldives asks India to withdraw troops by March 15

Maldives asks India to withdraw troops by March 15

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has given a deadline to India to withdraw its troops from the island nation. The Maldivian President said the Indian military personnel should leave the nation by March 15. The development comes a few days after Mohamed Muizzu met Xi Jinping on his first state visit to China after being elected. 

Maldives recently upgraded ties with China after a diplomatic row between India and Maldives erupted after Maldivian ministers made derogatory comments against Prime Minister Narendra Modi post his visit to Lakshadweep islands. The three ministers were sacked and the Maldivian Opposition criticised the comments, but the President said “We may be small but no one has the license to bully us”.

What India and Maldives said?

Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the public policy secretary at the President’s Office, said, “Indian military personnel cannot stay in the Maldives. This is the policy of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu and that of this administration.” According to reports, around 88 Indian troops are present in Maldives. 

The Maldives President’s deadline comes almost two months after he called for a withdrawal of Indian troops and said the nation “has to ensure that there is no presence of a foreign military on their soil”. The current Maldivian President came to power with his “India Out” campaign. The withdrawal of the Indian troops from Maldives was a key election promise of Muizzu.

Maldives and India have set up a high-level core group to negotiate the withdrawal of troops. The group held its first meeting at the Foreign Ministry Headquarters in Male’ on Sunday morning. Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar also attended the meeting, the report said.

Nazim confirmed the meeting and said the agenda for the meeting was the request to withdraw troops by March 15. 

India said, “During the meeting, both sides held discussions on wide-ranging issues related to bilateral cooperation towards identifying steps to enhance the partnership, including expediting the implementation of ongoing development cooperation projects.” 

“Both sides also held discussions on finding a mutually workable solution to enable the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medvac services to the people of Maldives,” the statement added. “The next meeting of the High Level Core Group will be held in India on a mutually convenient date,” it added.

“Workable Solution”

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju visited the Maldives in November and met the current President. Sources in the Indian Government told NDTV earlier that the two sides agreed to a “workable solution” to continue the use of Indian military platforms by the island nation as they serve the interests of its people.

These personnel operate India-sponsored radars and surveillance aircraft. Indian warships in the region help patrol the country’s exclusive economic zone. Despite its small size, the Maldives plays a significant role in regional politics, particularly due to the strategic maritime passages in its northern and southern parts, making it a key toll gate in the Indian Ocean.

President Muizzu earlier acknowledged the significant role of two Indian helicopters, the Dhruv, in numerous emergency medical evacuations. This small group of Indian soldiers have been stationed in the Maldives for several years now. 

Earlier, the Ministry of External Affairs had said India’s cooperation with Maldives is based on jointly addressing shared challenges and priorities. 

India’s assistance and platforms have contributed significantly to public welfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and in combating illegal maritime activities in the island nation, the ministry said.  

No Sudden Shift

The shift from Ibrahim Solih’s (President before Muizzu) “India First” policy to “India Out” is not sudden. Ibrahim Solih’s predecessor, Abdullah Yameen, is said to be the first Maldivian leader who started the campaign against India in 2013 and brought the island nation’s ties closer to China. His successor Ibrahim Solih maintained friendly ties with India during his tenure from 2018 to 2023. The role of social media and Maldives’ Dhiyares News is considered significant in crafting the narrative against India during Abdullah Yameen’s term.

Abdulla Yameen was barred from contesting the election because of a criminal conviction and an 11-year jail term for corruption, he nominated Muizzu. 

Muizzu earlier said he did not intend to upend the regional balance by replacing the Indian military with Chinese troops. The Maldives President is trying to strike a fine balance in its ties with India and China. Beijing has economic interests in Maldives and is its largest external creditor, but China’s debt trap policy raises concerns that the island nation may fall prey to the policy.

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