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19 Jan, 2024 12:20

India and Maldives hold 'frank' talks over troop-removal demand

The countries’ foreign ministers have discussed Malé’s move to end New Delhi’s military presence in the archipelago
India and Maldives hold 'frank' talks over troop-removal demand

India and Maldives are in talks to find “mutually workable solutions” to Malé’s demand for a withdrawal of about 88 Indian military personnel posted in the island nation, New Delhi’s Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday.

The Maldivian government had set a March 15 deadline for the removal of the troops, mostly airmen, amid unease about the relationship between the two countries.

Both sides held discussions on finding mutually workable solutions to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medevac services to the Maldivian people,” spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry Randhir Jaiswal told a media briefing in New Delhi on Thursday.

The next round of the talks, due to be held in India, is to take “discussions forward” Jaiswal added, without announcing any dates. Talks among members of a “high-level core group” took place in Malé on January 14.

Most of the Indian troops in Maldives are deployed to operate and fly two Dornier aircraft and a helicopter given to the Maldives by India for emergency evacuations from the nation’s more than 1,000 islands.

Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar met his Maldivian counterpart Moosa Zameer on Thursday prior to a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) that began on Friday. In a post on X, Jaishankar characterized that conversation as "frank," while Zameer highlighted their dialogue concerning troop withdrawal.

The two sides have been engaged for several months in negotiations over the presence of Indian troops in the island nation, which is located about 300 nautical miles from India’s west coast, between the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.

Last Sunday Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, a senior aide to the President of Maldives Mohamed Muizzu, declared that Indian troops cannot remain stationed in his country because it’s the “policy” of his administration, which assumed office last October. The removal of Indian troops as well as a balancing of trade and a reduction in the overall influence of India in the mid-ocean republic was part of Muizzu's presidential campaign. In contrast, his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih cultivated close ties with New Delhi.

Muizzu had earlier claimed that Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi had “agreed” to withdraw troops from the Maldives, at a meeting the leaders had last month in Dubai on the sidelines of the COP28 climate conference.

In early January, tensions escalated between the two nations when Maldives officials made “disrespectful remarks” about Modi, sparking an outcry, and even calls for a boycott of the islands. In the aftermath of the dispute, Malé distanced itself from the remarks, suspending three ministers. In the incident, the two countries each summoned the other’s envoy.

Meanwhile, Muizzu, who has recently traveled to Beijing on a state visit, said Maldives “cannot be bullied” by bigger countries, a remark believed to be aimed at India. He is expected to speak further on the matter in an upcoming address to the Parliament.

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