Maldivian President Muizzu says first group of Indian troops to be sent back before Mar 10

Maldivian President announces phased withdrawal of Indian troops from the country
Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu
Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu

Male | Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on Monday said the first group of Indian military personnel will be sent back from the island nation before March 10 and the remaining manning two aviation platforms will be withdrawn before May 10, as he articulated the need to bolster the Indian Ocean archipelagic nation's military capabilities.

In his maiden address to Parliament, Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, said the support of a large majority of the Maldivian citizens for his administration was for the "pledges to withdraw foreign military troops from the country." 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.

In the presidential runoff held in September last year, Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

His government is also reviewing more than 100 bilateral agreements signed with India by the previous government.

The main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – which holds a majority in Parliament – on Sunday announced that it would boycott Muizzu's address to Parliament, at this year's inaugural sitting.

He also said that his administration would recover the lost area of the Maldivian territory, and terminate any agreements made by the state that might undermine the country's sovereignty, according to a press release issued by the President's Office.

The President articulated the Maldives' need to augment its modern military capabilities for a comprehensive national defence strategy encompassing terrestrial, aerial, and maritime domains, it said.

Muizzu told Parliament that "diplomatic negotiations were underway for the withdrawal of Indian troops," the release said.

He detailed that, "as agreed in the latest negotiations, the military personnel on one of the three aviation platforms would be withdrawn before March 10, 2024, and the military personnel on the remaining two platforms would be withdrawn before May 10, 2024".

The President said his government has officially communicated that it will not renew the agreement enabling foreign nations to measure and map the Maldivian oceans and coastlines.

Muizzu underscored the necessity for the Maldives to fortify its military capabilities across terrestrial, aerial, and maritime domains as part of a comprehensive defence strategy.

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.

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 was quoted as saying by The Edition newspaper. He, however, did not name any country.

Muizzu highlighted that the nation's defence force is on the verge of achieving round-the-clock surveillance capabilities over the nation's 900,000-square-kilometre Exclusive Economic Zone, the release said.

He emphasised that while safeguarding our nation's sovereignty, the primary commitment in governance will be to place the welfare of the people and the nation at the forefront, guided by the "Pro Maldives" principle.

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.

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