Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu on Sunday claimed India has agreed to withdraw Indian troops from Maldives.
He made this announcement soon after landing in Male from his visit to the UAE to attend the Climate Change Conference where he had a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi also.
Sources here confirmed that this issue was "briefly discussed" at the meeting but maintained that "discussions on how to keep them operational are ongoing".
Reuters quoted Muizzu as saying: "In the discussions we had, the Indian government has agreed to remove Indian soldiers. We also agreed to set up a high-level committee to solve issues related to development projects."
Muizzu’s election campaign was centred around the "India Out" slogan to replace the "India First" approach of the previous Solih administration. In his first speech after winning the elections in September, Muizzu had said that his first order of business would be to remove the Indian troops from the archipelago. Soon after he was sworn in last month, he officially communicated this request to Union minister Kiren Rijiju who represented India at the swearing-in.
While there was no official comment from the external affairs ministry to Muizzu’s claim, sources said: "The continued usefulness of the Indian platforms as it was recognised in discussions needs to be looked at in a proper perspective….
"The Maldivian side has acknowledged the utility of these platforms. The fact that it is an important segment of our bilateral development partnership is recognised by both sides. Discussions on how to keep them operational are ongoing. The core group that both sides have agreed to set up will look at details of how to take this forward."
In all, there are 77 Indian military personnel stationed in Maldives to operate the the two helicopters and Dornier aircraft gifted to Male by the Manmohan Singh government and the Modi dispensation, respectively.
This is not the first time a Maldivian government has asked New Delhi to withdraw the Indian troops from the atoll nation. The Yameen government, which preceded the Solih dispensation, had made repeated requests to India to take back the two helicopters gifted to Male in 2013 but India did not take them back. Subsequently, during the Solih government, India gifted Maldives the Dornier.
During the Solih regime, India also signed the UTF agreement to develop a dockyard and military port in Uthuru Thilafalalhu. With the UTF agreement reportedly extending diplomatic immunity to Indian military personnel stationed in Maldives, the Opposition began raising concerns about Maldivian sovereignty being eroded by India.
According to the Atoll Times, the UTF agreement included a $50-million loan from India for the development of North Thilafalalhu. The military port is to be developed and managed jointly by the Maldivian and the Indian Armed Forces, and no foreign ships would be allowed to enter the port without India’s permission.