New Maldives Prez asks India to withdraw military personnel from his country

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.

“At the meeting, President Muizzu had formally requested Government of India to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives,” a readout from the Maldivian President’s Office said.

Muizzu told Rijiju that during the presidential election in September, the Maldivian people had “given him a strong mandate to make the request to India” and he expressed the hope that “India will honour the democratic will of the people of the Maldives”.

There was no official word from the Indian side on the development, though people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that it had been agreed the two governments will discuss “workable solutions for continued cooperation” through the use of two helicopters and a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft provided by India to the Maldives.

These continued operation of these aircraft serves the interests of the people of Maldives, the people pointed out. The people didn’t give details of the workable solutions or how the two sides will work them out. A small number of Indian security personnel are stationed in the Maldives for the operation and maintenance of the aircraft.

Muizzu had made the removal of Indian military personnel a key part of his campaign for the presidential campaign. He was backed by a coalition perceived as close to China and had also championed an “India Out” campaign.

At his inaugural address on Friday, Muizzu had said that he will “respect our neighbours and other countries”, but that he “will always draw a thick red line” when it comes to the security of the Maldives. Noting that he will always respect the decision of the people, Muizzu said: “Using the instrument of diplomacy, I will ensure that this country has no foreign military presence on its soil.”

The Maldives will respect the security red line of every country, and the Maldivian red line “should have that same right and respect”, he added.

However, at his meeting with Rijiju, Muizzu also acknowledged the “significant role of the two helicopters in providing numerous emergency medical evacuations”.

On Saturday, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said in a post on X that the Dornier aircraft provided by India was used for the medical evacuation of a woman in critical condition from one of the archipelago’s many atolls to the capital.

“A medical evacuation of a 36-year-old female in critical condition was carried out from Th. Atoll Hospital to Male’ City by MNDF Central Area Command via MNDF Dornier Aircraft today at 17:04 hours,” the MNDF posted on X.

Over the past few years, the two helicopters and the aircraft have been used scores of such operations, the people said.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had told a media briefing in October that the assistance and aircraft provided by India had contributed significantly in areas such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and combating illegal maritime activities.

Over the past five years, more than 500 medical evacuations were carried out by Indian personnel, saving 523 Maldivian lives. Of these, 131 evacuations were carried out in 2023, 140 in 2022, and 109 in 2021. During the past five years, more than 450 multifaceted missions were carried out to safeguard the maritime security of the Maldives.

At the meeting with Muizzu, Rijiju conveyed best wishes on behalf of the government of India, and expressed the aspiration to “foster a constructive relationship with the Maldives, acknowledging the presence of a vibrant Indian community residing in the Maldives”, the Maldivian readout said.

Muizzu and Rijiju reviewed the progress of various India-backed projects in the Maldives. Muizzu emphasised the importance of accelerating the Greater Male Connectivity Project and highlighted the importance of “addressing and overcoming the issues delaying the project”.