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Indian troops exit Maldives following nudge from ‘pro-China’ leader

President Mohamed Muizzu had set May 10 as the deadline for New Delhi to withdraw its troops from the island nation

Dozens of Indian military personnel have departed the Maldives at the insistence of the country’s President Mohamed Muizzu, who is cultivating deeper ties with Beijing. New Delhi confirmed on Thursday that May 10 had been by Muizzu as the deadline for withdrawal earlier this year.

The expulsion of Indian troops was one of Muizzu’s core promises during his presidential campaign in 2023. Soon after taking charge, the president asked New Delhi to withdraw approximately 80 military personnel who were largely tasked with manning two Dornier aircraft and a helicopter given to the Maldives by India for emergency evacuations. They are now being replaced with civilians.

“Both sides have been working together to ensure the continued operation” of the aircraft, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said at a briefing. “Competent Indian technical personnel” are being flown to the islands to replace the soldiers, he added.

The development coincided with Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer’s first-ever visit to New Delhi on Thursday, during which he discussed ties between the nations with his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. While Zameer appreciated India’s support in “advancing economic, trade, and investment ties between the two nations,” the Indian Foreign Minister remarked that the development of ties between the two nations were grounded in “mutual interests and reciprocal sensitivity.”

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Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, January 10, 2024
How a tiny tourist paradise has become a political flashpoint between India and China

New Delhi recently approved its highest-ever export quotas for essential commodities, including eggs, potatoes, onions, sugar, rice, wheat flour and pulses, river sand and stone aggregates, to the Maldives for 2024-25 under a unique bilateral mechanism. Meanwhile, India’s projects in the Maldives have also gained speed over the last fiscal year despite the ongoing row, Reuters has reported, citing an Indian official who was not named.

The efforts include a $500 million project for roads and bridges around Maldives’ capital Male, and two airports worth nearly $130 million each on two of the archipelago’s islands, supported through a line of credit from India.

Tensions between the two nations further escalated in January, when New Delhi took exception to “derogatory comments” some Maldivian officials had made about the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Male distanced itself from the comments and temporarily suspended a minister involved. According to the Maldives Foreign Minister, “proper action” is being taken to ensure that such a situation is not repeated.

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Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, President of the Republic of the Maldives,  met with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the sidelines of the COP28 in Dubai
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Indians, who typically account for a large number of tourists visiting the popular islands, called for a mass boycott of the Maldives in the wake of the controversy. Muizzu, at the time, suggested increasing tourist visits from China to compensate for the shortfall in visitors. Last week, however, Maldivian Tourism Minister Ibrahim Faisal urged Indians to be a part of Maldives’ tourism as their economy depended on it.

New Delhi has also raised concern over the foray of a Chinese research vessel, the Xiang Yang Hong 03, into Maldivian waters over espionage fears. At the time, Maldives said Beijing had lodged a “diplomatic request” to make a port call “for the rotation of personnel and replenishment.” The Foreign Minister, during his India visit, reiterated that Maldives had not permitted the Chinese vessel to conduct “research” in its waters.

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May 10, 2024 at 04:51PM

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