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India agrees to 'replace' military personnel in Maldives' three aviation platforms by May 10

Maldives President Muizzu had earlier called for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the island country by March 15. India has around 80 Indian military personnel in the Maldives to operate two advanced light helicopters and an aircraft to carry out several humanitarian missions.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Male Updated on: February 03, 2024 10:12 IST
Maldives, indian military personnel, Mohamed Muizzu
Image Source : PTI (FILE) Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India-Maldives tensions: Amid uneasy ties between India and the Maldives, both countries on Friday agreed on a "set of mutually workable solutions" to enable the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms in the island country. According to the Maldives foreign ministry, India has agreed to "replace" military personnel in three aviation platforms by May 10.

The development comes against the backdrop of Maldives' pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu calling for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the country by March 15. After a high-level meeting in Delhi, Maldives said India will replace its military personnel at one of the platforms by March 10 and will complete the process by May.

"Both sides agreed that the Government of India will replace the military personnel in one of the three aviation platforms by 10 March 2024, and will complete replacing military personnel in the other two platforms by 10 May 2024," said the Foreign Ministry of Maldives. It was agreed that the next meeting of the high-level core group would be held in Male during the last week of February, it said, although India did not mention a date.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India and the Maldives "continued their 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" despite strained ties following a recent diplomatic row and Male allowing a Chinese ship to dock despite concerns from New Delhi. 

What does this mean?

At present, around 80 Indian military personnel are in the Maldives primarily to operate two advanced light helicopters and an aircraft that have carried out several humanitarian missions. The Indian platforms have been providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the people of the Maldives for the last few years.

Reports suggest that the Indian military personnel would be replaced by civilians who have expertise in operating the three platforms. This effectively means India has agreed with Muizzu's demand to withdraw from the island country, but will continue to operate the two helicopters and the Dornier aircraft in the Maldives with the help of civilian replacements.

After enjoying long-standing friendly ties, relations soured between India and the Maldives when Muizzu won the November elections riding on an 'India Out' campaign. Muizzu asked India to withdraw its nearly 80 military personnel stationed there and declined a hydrographic project with New Delhi. Muizzu vowed to stop the emergency helicopter services facilitated by India and fixed March 2024 as the deadline.

After the first meeting of the core group on January 14, the MEA said the two sides were looking at finding a mutually workable solution to enable a continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the people of the Maldives. The core group was set up during a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai.

India also expressed concern towards the Maldives allowing a Chinese research vessel to dock on its shores, which New Delhi says can be used for "spying" and "research" purposes in the Maldives Special Economic Zone. The MEA on Thursday said India has been keeping a close eye on the movement of the ship. 

Pakistan offers assistance to Maldives

As the Maldives swings in favour of China, cash-strapped Pakistan on Thursday assured Male of support to address the "pressing development needs" of the island nation during a telephonic conversation between Muizzu and Pakistan's caretaker PM Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar. Muizzu has been assured of the support of the Pakistani government to address the pressing development needs of the Maldives", according to a statement from his office.

This comes amid Pakistan's own economic challenges ahead of a general election scheduled next week, with the country overly dependent on financial assistance from global money lender the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The new partnership comes as Pakistan is a close ally of China, and pro-China leader Muizzu is also pushing for closer relations with Beijing by distancing from a long-standing friendship with India.

(with inputs from PTI)

ALSO READ | Cash-strapped Pakistan assures Maldives of helping 'development needs' amid uneasy ties with India


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