Maldives Asks India to Withdraw Military Personnel by March 15: Report

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has asked India to withdraw its military personnel from the country by today, a senior official said in Male on Sunday, nearly two months after Maldives sought their removal.

President Muizzu made the demand, informing the Maldivian delegation, part of a high-level core group set up by the two countries to address the issue held its first meeting in Male.

Besides Indian high commissioner Munu Mahawar, other diplomats and military attaches from the Indian mission participated in the meeting.

In the 12th meeting to discuss the withdrawal, the Maldives government expressed its desire to ‘move ahead with the withdrawal of Indian troops in a civilized and diplomatic manner without endangering the relationship between the two countries,’ local media reported.

‘Indian military personnel cannot stay in the Maldives. This is the policy of President Mohamed Muizzu and that of this administration,’ a government spokesperson said.

A statement issued by the external affairs ministry said both sides discussed ways to find a ‘mutually workable solution to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and [medical evacuation] services to the people of Maldives.’

77 Indian military personnel are currently stationed in the Maldives to participate in medical evacuations and humanitarian sorties.

India is currently the main destination for Maldivians seeking medical treatment.

The delegates also discussed issues related to bilateral cooperation to identify steps to ‘enhance the partnership, including expediting the implementation of ongoing development cooperation projects.’

India and the Maldives agreed to set up the high-level core group when Muizzu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the margins of COP28 in December.

Both sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the high-level core group in India on a mutually convenient date.

The two countries have seen a dramatic ebb in bilateral relations since the election victory last year of Muizzu, under whom Maldives as being seen as getting closer to China.

Following his return from a visit to China, Muizzu announced a slew of measures apparently aimed at curtailing the Maldives’ dependence on India in key sectors such as healthcare and food security.

Muizzu, whose campaign for last year’s presidential election hinged on an ‘India out’ platform, has repeatedly called on New Delhi to withdraw military personnel posted in the Maldives.

Following his return to Male from a nearly week-long visit to China, Muizzu made several remarks and announcements at a news briefing that were apparently aimed against India.

Muizzu noted that relations between China and the Maldives were based on the four pillars of mutual respect, sovereign equality, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal matters. Without naming any country, he said in English: ‘We may be small but that doesn’t give you the licence to bully us.’

Muizzu announced the government’s universal healthcare insurance scheme, which now covers treatment in India and Sri Lanka, will be expanded to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Thailand.

According to an official statement, Muizzu said this will ‘diminish reliance on confined medical facilities in a select group of countries.’

The Chinese will facilitate the construction of a 100-bed hospital and provide aid in essential facilities for health centre laboratories across 17 islands, he said.

Muizzu announced that agreements were signed with China to help the Maldives expand agricultural growth to ensure food security, according to an official statement.

Without naming India, he added his government will ‘end its dependence on one country for imported staple foods such as rice, sugar, and flour.’

An agreement has also been concluded with Turkiye, the destination of Muizzu’s first foreign visit, for importing rice, sugar and wheat. Medicines will be imported from manufacturers in Europe and the US, he said.

Muizzu also said the Maldives is not in any country’s backyard and the Indian Ocean doesn’t belong to a single country. He said China will provide 920 million yuan in ‘free aid’ to the Maldives, and also build 30,000 social housing units and a commercial district in Hulhumalé.

Relations soured further after three junior Maldivian ministers recently posted derogatory remarks against India and its leadership.

The ministers were suspended after a strong protest by India but the row led to a call on Indian social media to boycott the Maldives as a tourist destination.