Male | Less than 24 hours after taking oath as the President of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu on Saturday formally requested India to withdraw its military personnel from his country, saying the Maldivian people have given him a "strong mandate" to make this request to New Delhi.
Muizzu's request came when India's Union Minister Kiren Rejiju paid a courtesy call on the new president at the latter's office, the Maldivian President's Office said in a press release.
The exact number of Indian military personnel in the Maldives is not known.
Muizzu, an engineer-turned-politician, took oath on Friday as the eighth president of the strategically-located archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean. Underscoring India's 'Neighbourhood First Policy', Rijiju represented the country at Muizzu's inauguration ceremony.
A close associate of former Maldives President Abdulla Yameen, who forged close ties with China during his Presidency from 2013 to 2018, Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September.
Muizzu had repeatedly indicated during the election campaign that the withdrawal of Indian military troops from the island nation is among the issues that need to be resolved by the two countries.
Soon after the oath-taking on Friday, Muizzu asserted that he was firmly committed to ensuring that his country remains "free" of any "foreign military presence" to preserve its independence and sovereignty. However, he did not name any country in his inaugural address.
At the meeting, President Muizzu formally requested the Government of India to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives.
"The President noted that at the Presidential Election held in September, the Maldivian people had given him a strong mandate to make the request to India and expressed the hope that India will honour the democratic will of the people of the Maldives, the statement from the President's Office said here.
While discussing the matter with Rijiju, Muizzu also acknowledged the significant role of the two helicopters in providing numerous emergency medical evacuations in the Maldives.
Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in the Prime Minister's vision of 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy.'
Maldives' proximity to the west coast of India (barely 70 nautical miles away from Minicoy and 300 nautical miles away from India's West coast), and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean gives it significant strategic importance to India.
Rijiju conveyed his best wishes to the President, representing the sentiments of the Government and the people of India, the statement said.
The minister expressed his aspiration to foster a constructive relationship with the Maldives, acknowledging the presence of a vibrant Indian community residing in the Maldives.
"Privileged to call on President H.E. Dr. Mohamed Muizzu. Conveyed greetings from Hon'ble PM @NarendraModi and reiterated India's commitment to further strengthen the substantive bilateral cooperation and robust people-to-people ties," Rijiju posted on X.
India was the first to assist Maldives during the 2004 Tsunami as well as the water crisis in Male in December 2014.
Muizzu and Rijiju also reviewed the progress of the implementation of various projects in the Maldives with the support of India.
The President emphasised the importance of accelerating the Greater Male' Connectivity Project (GMCP), highlighted the importance of addressing and overcoming the issues delaying the project, the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Special Envoy of the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Shen Yiqin, paid a courtesy call on President Muizzu, where they conversed on the importance of fortifying the existing China-Maldives friendship.
State Councillor Shen Yiqin congratulated the President on his successful inauguration and expressed her confidence that relations between the two countries would further strengthen during this presidential term.
During the meeting, President Muizzu thanked the Government of China for its contributions to the socio-economic development of the Maldives over the years, the President's Office said in a statement.