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3 Feb, 2024 13:23

India and Maldives reach agreement on troop withdrawal

Relations between the two countries hit a rough patch after Male demanded that New Delhi pull out
India and Maldives reach agreement on troop withdrawal

India and the Maldives released conflicting statements on Friday on the island nation’s demand to withdraw Indian military personnel from the archipelago after a second round of talks was held in New Delhi. Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu set a deadline earlier this month for India to remove its troops by March 15. 

According to a statement from the Maldives’ Foreign Ministry, officials from both nations convened in New Delhi and reached an agreement that India would replace the military personnel in “one of the three aviation platforms” by March 10 and complete the replacement of troops in the other two platforms by May 10. 

However, an Indian Foreign Ministry statement refrained from explicitly mentioning a withdrawal. It stated instead that both parties had reached an agreement on a series of measures “to facilitate the ongoing operation of Indian aviation platforms, which offer humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the Maldivian population.” 

The two countries also discussed issues related to bilateral cooperation to identify steps to enhance the partnership and hasten the completion of ongoing development projects, readouts from both governments noted.

In a separate statement, the Maldives’ Defense Ministry said on Friday that the government formally requested that New Delhi explain an incident in which Indian troops boarded three fishing boats within the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone without prior consultation with the authorities, breaching international maritime law and regulations. There was no immediate response from the Indian government to the allegations. 

The withdrawal of around 80 Indian troops, most of which are deployed to operate and fly two Dornier aircraft and a helicopter given to the Maldives by India for emergency evacuation, was one of Muizzu’s key promises before being elected last year.

Following a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Muizzu on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai in December, the two sides agreed to set up a group to iron out their differences.

Tensions between India and the Maldives soared earlier this month when several Maldivian government officials made comments on social media that were seen as derogatory towards Modi, prompting immense backlash from Indians, who called for a boycott of the islands. Three deputy ministers were suspended and the Maldivian government distanced itself from their statements. In the aftermath of the row, Indians have slipped from being the island’s largest group of tourists last year to fifth place.

Muizzu, who was in Beijing last month on his first state visit, called for an increase in the tourist flow from China and hailed relations between the two countries. Beijing has also agreed to provide $130 million for development, and the two countries signed an agreement on agricultural cooperation.

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