First batch of Indian military personnel leaves Maldives amid strained ties with President Muizzu

Indian military personnel, Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu
Image Source : INDIA IN MALDIVES An Indian helicopter in the Maldives

Male: The first batch of Indian military personnel in the Maldives, which has been manning a helicopter gifted by New Delhi for humanitarian missions, has departed from the island country after handing over the operations of the chopper to an Indian civilian crew, according to Maldivian media. The batch consisted of 25 Indian soldiers stationed in Addu city, according to a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) official.

The departure was in line with Maldives’ pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu, who has demanded the withdrawal of Indian military personnel since coming to power. There has been no immediate confirmation from India’s defence ministry on the departure of the first batch. Muizzu has demanded the complete withdrawal of Indian troops by May 10.

The MNDF official confirmed that the Indian military troops left the country ahead of March 10 as agreed upon earlier. The helicopters will, from now on, be operated by civilian experts from India who have been transferred to the Maldives for the purpose, and the operations of the civilian crew and the helicopter will come under the Maldivian Army. The official further said that the rest of the Indian military personnel stationed elsewhere in Maldives will also leave on schedule by May 10.

Muizzu’s demand on Indian troops

Recently, Muizzu demanded that no Indian military personnel, not even those in civilian clothing, would be present inside his country after May 10. “There will be no Indian troops in the country come May 10, not in uniform and not in civilian clothing. The Indian military will not be residing in this country in any form of clothing. I state this with confidence,” he said.

After a high-level meeting in New Delhi on February 2 between the two sides, the Maldivian foreign ministry said India would replace its military personnel operating the three aviation platforms in the Maldives by May 10 and the first phase of the process would be completed by March 10. India had agreed to remove its troops from the Maldives under the condition that a number of their civilians equivalent to the military presence are brought to operate the aircraft.

Notably, the removal of Indian troops in the Maldives was part of an election campaign for Muizzu’s party. There are around 88 Indian troops, along with Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft and two HAL Dhruv helicopters, stationed in the Maldives. It is worth mentioning the latest remarks from the Maldivian President came hours after the island nation signed a defence cooperation agreement with China. Beijing has promised to provide free military assistance to foster “stronger” bilateral relations amid the latter’s strained ties with India. 

The first group of Indian civilian personnel, which included 26 people, arrived on February 26 to replace the Indian military personnel operating a helicopter in Addu city. Meanwhile, the Maldivian defence force on Thursday said it will have operational authority over the helicopter given by India to the island nation and the civilian crew that will pilot it. 

The Indian aviation platforms have provided humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the Maldivians for the last few years. Muizzu defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September last year.

Maldives-China ties on the rise

Furthermore, Muizzu also announced that he will not renew an agreement with New Delhi to conduct hydrographic surveys and plans to acquire the facilities and machines required to do the exercise by itself. He also announced that his country is working to establish a 24X7 monitoring system for the Maldivian waters this month to ensure control of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) despite its significantly large area.

While relations between India and Maldives are straining, the latter’s relations with China are on an upward trajectory. The Muizzu government also allowed a sophisticated Chinese ‘research ship’ to dock at Male. Last week, the MNDF signed a deal with China’s military. Under this deal, China will supply ‘non-lethal’ weapons to the Maldives free of cost.

Last week, China pledged to work with the Maldives to build a comprehensive strategic partnership and asserted that its ties with the island country do not target any third party nor can they be disrupted by any such party. The Maldives and China elevated their bilateral ties to a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” during the visit of Maldives President Muizzu to Beijing in January.

(with inputs from agencies)

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