Maldivian President Muizzu says Indian troops to be sent back by May 10

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President Mohamed Muizzu on Monday said the first group of Indian military personnel will be sent back from the island nation before March 10, while the remaining Indian troops manning two aviation platforms will be withdrawn by May 10. In his maiden address to Parliament, Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, said he believes a large majority of Maldivians support his administration with the expectation that they will remove foreign military presence from the country, and recover the lost oceanic territory.

He said his administration will not allow any State agreements that may compromise the country’s sovereignty, The Edition newspaper reported. Soon after taking oath as the President of Maldives on November 17, Muizzu formally requested India to withdraw 88 military personnel from his country by March 15, saying the Maldivian people have given him a “strong mandate” to make this request to New Delhi. “Diplomatic discussions with other nations that the President can conduct are ongoing. We have officially requested India to remove its troops stationed in the Maldives. Deliberations on this issue are ongoing.

“As per the most recent discussions, military personnel on one of the three aviation platforms will be recalled before March 10, 2024. The military personnel on the remaining two platforms will also be recalled by May 10, 2024,” Muizzu told Parliament. After the latest round of bilateral talks, India said on February 2 that a “set of mutually workable solutions” was agreed upon with the Maldives for continuing the operations of Indian aviation platforms in the island nation.

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Currently, Indian military personnel are in the Maldives primarily to operate two helicopters and an aircraft that have carried out hundreds of medical evacuations and humanitarian missions. The Indian platforms have been providing humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the people of the Maldives for the last few years. Muizzu said his administration would not do anything that could in any way compromise the nation’s sovereignty. He asserted that he would remain steadfast and not give in to any external pressures under any circumstances if it posed a risk to the country’s independence and sovereignty.

“…Is it a small blessing that we remain independent, under our own power? Even in the present times, there are people in much larger countries who are sacrificing limb and life to gain this right,” the President said, without naming any country. The Maldives’ proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland’s western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives it significant strategic importance.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Narendra Modi government.