New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu discussed the contentious issue of pulling Indian troops from the island nation, at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of COP28 Summit in Dubai Saturday.
The Maldivian side claimed India has agreed to withdraw its military personnel. Statements issued earlier by the Maldivian and Indian governments on the bilateral meeting, however, did not mention this issue.
But on Sunday, speaking to reporters at the Velana International Airport (VIA) in Maldives after his first overseas tour, Muizzu told reporters that New Delhi had agreed to withdraw its military presence from the country.
“During all efforts undertaken before this and efforts undertaken to date, the Indian government has come to an agreement with us to withdraw the troops,” he said, according to local reports.
He also said that an agreement was reached to withdraw Indian military personnel, which is currently in progress at a “technical level”.
There are an estimated 77 Indian soldiers currently stationed in the Maldives.
Government sources confirmed to ThePrint that this issue was “briefly discussed in Dubai”.
“We have seen reports about the status of Indian platforms in Maldives engaged in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) activities. The continued usefulness of the Indian platforms as it was recognised in discussions needs to be looked at in a proper perspective,” a source said.
“The Maldivian side has acknowledged the utility of these platforms. The fact that it is an important segment of our bilateral development partnership is recognised by both sides. Discussions on how to keep them operational are ongoing. The core group that both sides have agreed to set up will look at details of how to take this forward,” the source added.
Last month, in his first speech after he won the presidential elections in September, Muizzu vowed to remove all foreign military personnel from his country, including Indian troops. This was also listed among his targets for the first 100 days in office.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped Muizzu’s oath-taking ceremony in Malé held later, as relations between New Delhi and Malé remained on edge on this issue.
Muizzu also broke another tradition — Turkey was his first overseas visit, instead of India as has been the norm with previous Maldives presidents.
Committee to oversee mega-bridge project
On Saturday, Modi and Muizzu agreed to set up a high-level committee to further strengthen development and economic cooperation between the two nations.
Muizzu told reporters Sunday evening that the committee would “take immediate decisions” with respect to projects, including the biggest one — the bridge near Male. He said the panel would also weigh in on “situations arising concerning loans and other national crises”.
The Greater Male Connectivity Project is a mega infrastructure initiative by India in the Maldives, which seeks to build a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link between Male and three nearby islands.
On the sidelines of COP28, Muizzu also held a bilateral meeting with Chinese First Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang. The Chinese side reportedly said they were optimistic that ties would “thrive” under his tenure.
(Edited by Tikli Basu)
Source: The Print