Last Updated: November 18, 2023, 21:51 IST
New Maldivian president Mohamed Muizzu formally requested India to “withdraw” its military personnel from the island nation on Saturday, less than 24 hours after taking oath. He said the people of his country have given a “strong mandate” to make this request to New Delhi. It came when union minister Kiren Rijiju, who also attended the oath-taking ceremony, paid a courtesy call on the new president at his office.
During his oath-taking on Friday (November 17), Muizzu said he was firmly committed to ensuring that his country remains “free” of any “foreign military presence” to preserve its independence and sovereignty. He, however, did not name any country in his inaugural address.
According to sources, meanwhile, when Rijiju called on Muizzu, the two discussed the issue of Indian military personnel present in the Maldives for operating aircraft for medical evacuation and anti-drug trafficking purposes. The new president acknowledged the contribution of these helicopters and aircraft for the welfare of Maldivians, while saying they were central to the “confidence” that international tourists have when staying on the remote islands. He also appreciated their role in monitoring and combating drug trafficking.
Sources said it has been agreed that the two governments will discuss “workable solutions” for continued cooperation through the use of these platforms as this serves the interests of the people of the Maldives.
The exact number of Indian military personnel in the Maldives is not known, but the strategically located archipelago is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.
The proximity of the Maldives to the west coast of India (barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles away from India’s west coast), and its situation at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it significant strategic importance to India.
Who is Mohamed Muizzu?
Muizzu, 45, is an engineer-turned-politician who took oath as the eighth president of the Maldives. A close associate of former president Abdulla Yameen, who forged close ties with China from 2013 to 2018, he defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September.
Even during his election campaign, Muizzu had indicated that the withdrawal of Indian military troops from the island nation is among the issues that need to be resolved by the two countries.
At the meeting with Rijiju, Muizzu formally requested India to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives. “The President noted that at the Presidential Election held in September, the Maldivian people had given him a strong mandate to make the request to India and expressed the hope that India will honour the democratic will of the people of the Maldives,” read the statement from the president’s offfice.
Rijiju conveyed his best wishes to the president, representing the sentiments of the government and the people of India, the statement read. The minister expressed his aspiration to foster a constructive relationship with the Maldives, acknowledging the presence of a vibrant Indian community residing in the Maldives.
“Privileged to call on President H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu. Conveyed greetings from Hon’ble PM @NarendraModi and reiterated India’s commitment to further strengthen the substantive bilateral cooperation and robust people-to-people ties,” Rijiju posted on X.
Muizzu and Rijiju also reviewed the progress of the implementation of projects in the Maldives with the support of India. The president stressed on the importance of accelerating the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP), highlighted the importance of addressing and overcoming the issues delaying the project, the statement read.
India was the first to assist Maldives during the 2004 Tsunami as well as the water crisis in Male in December 2014.
(With PTI inputs)