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76 Indian troops replaced by civilians in Maldives to operate India-gifted aviation platforms

Indian soldiers operating the aviation platforms have been replaced by civilian employees of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), said Maldives' foreign minister Moosa Zameer. India-Maldives ties deteriorated after President Mohamed Muizzu demanded the expulsion of Indian troops.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Male Published on: May 11, 2024 17:46 IST
Indian troops
Image Source : PTI Representational Image

Male: At least 76 Indian troops in the Maldives have been replaced by civilian employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, who manufactured the helicopters given to the archipelago nation, said Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer on Saturday. His statement ended the suspense over the exact number of troops repatriated as India completed the withdrawal process ahead of the May 10 deadline.

India completed the withdrawal of its military personnel from the Maldives ahead of the May 10 (Friday) deadline on the demands of pro-China Mohamed Muizzu, confirmed the governments of both countries. The Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives to operate and maintain two helicopters and Dornier aircraft India gifted earlier, primarily for medi-evac missions.

That agreement for the withdrawal of Indian troops was a result of the demand of pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu made within hours of his assuming office in November. Muizzu has previously accused India of meddling in the affairs of the Maldives, despite it being India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

What did Zameer say?

As per local reports, Zameer addressed a press conference a day after he returned from his first official visit to India, detailing the presence of Indian soldiers stationed in Hanimaadhoo, Kadhdhoo and Gan. "As many as 26 soldiers withdrew from Gan between March 7 and March 9, while another 25 soldiers withdrew from Hanimaadhoo between April 7 and April 9, and 12 withdrew from Kadhdhoo on Tuesday. The final batch of 13 soldiers withdrew from Kadhdhoo on Thursday," he was quoted as saying.

Zameer said that it is the civilian employees of the company that manufactured the Indian-gifted helicopters, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) that have come to replace the Indian military personnel. The Maldivian government had previously said that documents show there are 89 Indian soldiers in the Maldives, to operate two military helicopters and a Dornier aircraft, it added. 

When asked about concerns that Indian troops still remained in the Maldives dressed in civilian clothes, Zameer replied, "Indian military was not here under any deception, were they? So there is no reason for us to have doubts when the Government of India has stated that these are civilians.”

Minister of Defence Mohamed Ghassan Maumoon, who also addressed the press conference, confirmed that the Maldives government had ensured that the people who had arrived to replace the Indian military personnel were, in fact, civilians. "The command and control of the aircraft are now officially under the Defence Ministry and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)," he said.

India-Maldives relations

Relations between India and Maldives deteriorated since Muizzu came to power in November last year even while the archipelagic nation maintained closer ties with China. He also travelled to China in January and met top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping. His government has also signed a defence agreement with the Chinese military under which the People's Liberation Army will assist the Maldivian security and defence forces.

However, in his first media interview, Muizzu claimed that he had not taken any action or made any statements that may strain the relationship between the two countries. India will continue to remain the Maldives' closest ally, he said and emphasised that there was no question about it, Maldives news portal said in a report last month.

Meanwhile, Zameer visited India for the first time on May 8 and held delegation-level talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, who conveyed to him that the development of India-Maldives ties is based on “mutual interests” and “reciprocal sensitivity.” The Maldivian foreign ministry said Jaishankar and Zameer discussed all aspects of the India-Maldives partnership to forge opportunities for future collaboration.

"I think Maldives-India defence relations go beyond military personnel. And now, those platforms which have been handled by the military personnel will be handled by civilians. We have had a joint exercise with the Maldivian military, Indian military and Sri Lanka, I think Bangladesh is an observer and we will continue to have these exercises," he said in an interview with the news agency ANI.

(with inputs from agencies)

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