A day after he was sworn in, the office of Maldives president Mohamed Muizzu on Saturday announced that the government has officially asked India to withdraw its military presence from the country. Following a meeting between Union minister Kiren Rijiju and newly elected Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu in Male on Saturday, official sources have said that the two countries have decided to talk about "workable solutions" on the presence of Indian military assets as they "serve the interests of the people of Maldives", sources have said.
Union minister Kiren Rijiju was in the Indian Ocean Island country to represent India at the oath-taking ceremony of the new President on Friday (Nov 17).
A readout from the Maldives government on the meeting said, "While discussing the matter with Minister Kiren Rijiju, President Dr Muizzu also acknowledged the significant role of the two helicopters in providing numerous emergency medical evacuations."
India has around 70 soldiers in the Maldives, manning radars and surveillance aircraft. Indian warships also help patrol the country's exclusive economic zone.
Muizzu is widely seen as a pro-China leader who had promised to ensure the removal of Indian troops and maintain geopolitical neutrality if he is elected to power. The Maldivian defense force said in 2021 that about 75 Indian military personnel were located in the country to maintain and operate an aircraft that was provided as an aid in 2020.
A statement released by the Maldivian president's office said Muizzu "formally requested the government of India to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives" in the meeting.
Muizzu has maintained that he will keep his election promise of evicting Indian military personnel from his country.
As per Indian government sources, Muizzu, in the meeting, brought up the issue of Indian military personnel present in the Maldives operating aircraft for medical evacuation and to counter drug trafficking. The President also acknowledged the contribution of the Indian helicopters and aircraft for medical evacuation of Maldivian citizens, as per the sources.
"They are also central to the confidence that international tourists have in staying in remote islands. He appreciated their role in monitoring and combating drug trafficking," said a source.
"It was agreed that the two governments would discuss workable solutions for continued cooperation through the use of these platforms as this serves the interests of the people of the Maldives," it said.
Indian military assets like helicopters and Dornier aircraft gifted to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) are seen as central to medical evacuation to monitor and combat drug trafficking in the country. They have also contributed significantly in areas like humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and combating illegal maritime activities in Maldives.
Over the past five years, Indian personnel have executed more than 500 medical evacuations, saving 523 Maldivian lives. This year alone witnessed 131 evacuations, with 140 and 109 evacuations conducted in the preceding two years.
Moreover, more than 450 multifaceted missions have been carried out to safeguard the maritime security of the Maldives, with 122 missions in the last year, and 152 and 124 missions undertaken in 2021 and 2020, respectively.
Image source: PTI