Maldives calls for Indian troop withdrawal by March 15

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has issued a March 15 deadline for India to withdraw its military personnel from the island nation.

| Updated: 15 January, 2024 1:25 pm IST

NEW DELHI: Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has issued a March 15 deadline for India to withdraw its military personnel from the island nation. This development follows Muizzu’s recent state visit to China and the subsequent strengthening of diplomatic ties between Maldives and China.

The demand for troop withdrawal comes amidst escalating tensions triggered by disparaging comments made by Maldivian ministers against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Muizzu’s call for the removal of Indian soldiers from Maldivian soil was initially voiced approximately two months ago, aligning with his electoral promise under the “India Out” campaign that played a pivotal role in his election. The Maldives and China deepened their ties after the removal of three ministers who criticised Modi’s visit to the Lakshadweep islands, signaling a shift in the Indian Ocean archipelago’s foreign policy.

A high-level core group has been established by both India and the Maldives to negotiate the withdrawal of troops. The group convened for its inaugural meeting at the Foreign Ministry Headquarters in Male, with Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar in attendance. Around 88 Indian troops are currently stationed in the Maldives, operating surveillance aircraft and radars sponsored by India.

Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the public policy secretary at the President’s Office, emphasised that the policy of President Muizzu and his administration is clear: Indian military personnel cannot remain in the Maldives. Both sides discussed a broad range of issues during the meeting, with India expressing the need to find a mutually workable solution for the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the Maldives.

Union Minister Kiren Rijiju’s visit to the Maldives in November had earlier hinted at a potential “workable solution” for the use of Indian military platforms by the island nation, acknowledging their significant role in public welfare, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief. The Ministry of External Affairs emphasised the substantial contribution of India’s aid and platforms in the Maldives’ public welfare, humanitarian relief, disaster response, and efforts against illicit maritime activities.

The strained relations between India and the Maldives have undergone shifts in recent years, from Ibrahim Solih’s “India First” policy to Muizzu’s “India Out” stance. Muizzu, while maintaining diplomatic ties with China, has affirmed his commitment to striking a delicate balance between India and China, as concerns about China’s debt trap policy loom large.

The next meeting of the High Level Core Group is scheduled to take place in India on a mutually convenient date.

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