India start official talks with Maldives over troops withdrawal

Male: The Maldives and India on Sunday initiated official talks on the withdrawal of Indian military personnel stationed in the Indian Ocean archipelagic nation, according to a media report, nearly two months after Male sought their removal.

The talks began at the Maldivian Foreign Ministry headquarters in Male’, SunOnline newspaper reported.

Ibrahim Khaleel, the Minister at the President’s Office for Strategic Communications, told the newspaper that the meeting was that of the high-level core group which Maldives and India agreed to set up during the meeting between Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the COP28 in Dubai in December.

Khaleel said the group was discussing the withdrawal of Indian military personnel and expediting India-backed development projects in the Maldives, the report said.

Soon after taking oath as the President of Maldives on November 17 last year, Muizzu 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.

Khaleel had earlier said the new Maldivian administration led by President Muizzu has established that there are 77 Indian military personnel in the Maldives.

Male is also reviewing more than 100 bilateral agreements with New Delhi.

There were 24 Indian military personnel to manage the first helicopter, 25 Indians to manage the Dornier aircraft, 26 personnel to manage the second helicopter, and two more for maintenance and engineering.

The discussions on the withdrawal of Indian military personnel come amid a row between the two nations in the backdrop of derogatory comments posted by three deputy ministers of the Muizzu government against Prime Minister Modi.

During his just-concluded state visit to China, Muizzu sought to align Maldives closer to Beijing.

Muizzu suspended the three ministers after their social media postings, which stirred concern in India and calls for a boycott by Indian tourists who ranked highest in numbers followed by Russia.

Chinese tourists figured third.