India to replace military personnel in Maldives by May 10

India has agreed to replace its military personnel operating three aviation platforms in the Maldives by May 10.

This decision comes after a series of high-level meetings between Indian and Maldivian officials, which aimed to address the request made by Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel.

President Muizzu, who took office on November 17, 2023, had called for the removal of Indian forces by March 15 as part of his election promise.

The first phase of the replacement process is scheduled to be completed by March 10, with one of the three aviation platforms transitioning from Indian military to possibly civilian operators with the necessary expertise.

The remaining two platforms are expected to follow suit by the May deadline.

Approximately 80 Indian military personnel are currently stationed in the Maldives, primarily tasked with operating two helicopters and an aircraft that have been instrumental in conducting medical evacuations and humanitarian missions.

”Both sides agreed that the government of India will replace the military personnel in one of the three aviation platforms by March 10, and will complete replacing military personnel in the other two platforms by May 10,” the Maldives Foreign Ministry statement said.

Both parties have “concurred on a series of mutually viable solutions to facilitate the ongoing operation of Indian aviation platforms.”

These platforms are dedicated to providing humanitarian aid and conducting medical evacuations for the residents of the Maldives, as outlined in the statement.

The bilateral discussions have also included talks on enhancing the partnership between the two nations, with a focus on expediting ongoing development cooperation projects.

The next meeting of the high-level core group is set to take place in Male at a mutually convenient date.

This move reflects a shift in the diplomatic relationship between India and the Maldives under President Muizzu’s administration, which has been perceived as more pro-China compared to his predecessor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

The Indian government has proposed a 22% reduction in aid to the Maldives for the financial year 2024-25, allocating Rs 600 crore for developmental assistance.

Tensions have arisen in relations between the two nations since President Muizzu assumed power in November of the previous year.

Upon assuming office, Muizzu reiterated his commitment to fulfilling his election promise of removing Indian military personnel from the Maldives.

The 45-year-old leader secured victory over the India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff in September of the same year.

The Maldives holds strategic significance as one of India’s key maritime neighbors in the Indian Ocean region.

The overall bilateral ties, including defense and security, experienced positive momentum under the previous government in Male. Muizzu officially assumed the presidency on November 17, 2023.

Shortly after taking office, Muizzu called for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the Maldives.

Following the initial meeting of the core group on January 14, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated that both sides were exploring mutually viable solutions to ensure the continued operation of Indian aviation platforms offering humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the Maldivian population.

Recently, there has been a diplomatic dispute between India and the Maldives, triggered by derogatory comments made by some Maldivian ministers directed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The discord began when PM Modi visited Lakshadweep and shared images of its unspoiled landscapes.

In the Maldives, this was interpreted as an attempt to promote Lakshadweep as an alternative tourist destination, posing a potential threat to the island nation’s economy, heavily reliant on tourism.

The aftermath of the dispute resulted in numerous cancellations of hotel bookings and flight tickets to the Maldives.

The perception of President Mohamed Muizzu being anti-India and pro-China further complicated the situation.