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Maldivian pilots not capable of operating aviation platforms gifted by India, says Defence Minister

The Maldivian minister's remarks came days after India completed the withdrawal of 76 military personnel from the archipelago nation. His remarks came as a surprise as officials from the current administration previously claimed that there were capable pilots in the military.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Male Published on: May 13, 2024 9:52 IST
Maldives, Maldives President, Mohamed Muizzu
Image Source : AP (FILE) The Indian troops were withdrawn at the insistence of Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu.

Male: Days after 76 Indian defence personnel left the Maldives at the insistence of President Mohamed Muizzu, Maldivian Defence Minister Ghassan Maumoon remarked that the country's military still does not have pilots capable of operating three aircraft donated by New Delhi. Indian troops were stationed in the Maldives to operate and maintain two helicopters and Dornier aircraft India gifted earlier, primarily for medi-evac missions.

In his remarks at a press conference held at the President's Office on Saturday to address the replacement of Indian troops with civilians, Ghassan said there were no Maldivian soldiers with the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) who could operate the three aircraft donated by the Indian military despite some soldiers who began training to fly them under agreements formed by previous governments.

"As it was a training that required passing various stages, our soldiers had not reached completion due to various reasons. Therefore, there aren't any people in our force at the moment who are licensed or fully operational to fly the two helicopters and Dornier aircraft," he was quoted as saying by local media. The Maldivian minister came as a surprise as senior officials of the Muizzu administration have in the past claimed that there were capable pilots in the MNDF.

As per the report, training Maldivians was the main reason for the arrival of Indian soldiers with the helicopters donated by former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Abdulla Yameen's governments and the Dornier aircraft brought during former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's government. 

No intention of removing Indians from Maldivian hospital

Despite the failure to complete the training to date, Maldives' Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer on Saturday said the agreement to replace the Indian soldiers with civilians also included provisions for training local pilots. Additionally, the Maldives government has no intention of removing the doctors from India at Senahiya military hospital, as per local media reports.

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. Muizzu rode in on an 'India Out' campaign and 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).

Zameer confirmed that 76 Indian troops withdrew from the island country, ending the suspense over the exact number of soldiers. " 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 said.

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. 

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.

(with inputs from agencies)

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