India to ‘replace’ forces in Maldives’ aviation platforms instead of withdrawal

Amid escalating tensions, India and Maldives have reached a mutual agreement to replace Indian military personnel in the Maldives instead of a complete withdrawal.

| Updated: 03 February, 2024 12:55 pm IST

NEW DELHI: Amid escalating tensions, India and Maldives have reached a mutual agreement to replace Indian military personnel in the Maldives instead of a complete withdrawal. The decision was announced by the Maldivian Foreign Ministry following the second high-level core group meeting in Delhi on Friday, February 2.

The discussions, addressing the contentious matter of withdrawing Indian military personnel from the Maldives, resulted in a consensus that India will replace its military personnel in the three aviation platforms in the Maldives. The first phase of this process is set to be completed by March 10, with the entire replacement to be finalised by May 10.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs released a statement indicating ongoing discussions and mutual agreement on solutions. The statement read, “Both sides also agreed on a set of mutually workable solutions to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medvac services to the people of Maldives.”

On Friday, the core group was established following a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu during the COP28 meeting in Dubai last month. The initial meeting of the High-Level Core Group took place on January 14 in Malé, where both nations agreed to expedite the withdrawal of Indian military personnel.

During the recent meeting at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, discussions covered various bilateral cooperation issues, with a focus on enhancing the partnership. The Maldivian Foreign Ministry echoed similar sentiments, emphasising the review of existing bilateral cooperation to improve ties in defense and security cooperation, economic, and development partnerships.

Both sides agreed that India will replace military personnel in one aviation platform by March 10, 2024, and complete the replacement in the other two platforms by May 10, 2024. While specific details about the withdrawal of all Indian military personnel were not disclosed, both nations confirmed that the third meeting of the High-Level Core Group would take place in Malé during the last week of February.

The replacement initiative is focused on transitioning from Indian troops to civilian counterparts, and the deadline extension from March to May marks a significant development in the ongoing discussions.

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, considered pro-China, had previously urged India to withdraw all its military personnel by March 15. This request came after defeating the India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff in September, leading to strains in the diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Currently, there are 77 Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives, fulfilling diverse roles. This includes 24 individuals participating in helicopter operations, 25 involved in Dornier aircraft operations, 26 assigned to a second helicopter’s operations, and an additional two individuals responsible for the maintenance and engineering works of these aircraft.

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