President Mohamed Muizzu ask India to withdraw soldiers

President Mohamed Muizzu with Kiren Rijiju
President Mohamed Muizzu with Kiren Rijiju

The new President of the small island nation of Maldives has requested India to remove its military personnel stationed at the island. Removing the presence of foreign military presence on Maldivian soil was one of the main promises of the new President of Maldives.

Indian Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju was present at the inaugural session of the new President Mohamed Muizzu. The Minister of Earth Sciences held a meeting with the new President to discuss improving ties and cooperation between the neighbours which are also democracies. 

The new Pro-China President of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, on Saturday 18th November 2023 made a formal request to the Government of India, asking India to withdraw its military personnel archipelago, and people familiar with the matter said it was agreed the two sides would discuss “workable solutions” to the issue.

Muizzu, who is closely aligned to former pro-China president Abdulla Yameen, made the request during a meeting with earth sciences minister Kiren Rijiju in Male. Rijiju had represented the Indian government at Muizzu’s inauguration on Friday.

Addressing the inauguration event on his elevation as the president of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu said he would ensure that the small Island nation "has no foreign military presence on its soil". Soon after, during a meeting with Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, the President formally requested New Delhi to withdraw its military personnel. Indian government sources have said the two sides have agreed to discuss "workable solutions" to continue the use of Indian military platforms by the island nation as they serve the interests of its people.

“At the meeting, President Muizzu had formally requested the 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 would discuss “workable solutions for continued cooperation” through the use of two helicopters and a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft provided by India to the Maldives.

The 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.

India has just about 70 soldiers in the island nations. These personnel operate India-sponsored radars and surveillance aircraft. Indian warships in the region help patrol the country's exclusive economic zone. According to a statement issued by his office, President Dr Muizzu acknowledged the significant role of two Indian helicopters in numerous emergency medical evacuations. This small group of Indian soldiers have been stationed in the Maldives for several years now. Earlier, the Ministry of External Affairs had said India's cooperation with Maldives is based on jointly addressing shared challenges and priorities. India's assistance and platforms have contributed significantly to public welfare, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and in combating illegal maritime activities in the island nation, the ministry said.  

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.

An island nation about one-fifth the size of Delhi, the Maldives is home to about 5 lakh people and is a popular tourist destination. But amid the growing strategic significance of the Indian Ocean region and border tensions between key Asian players India and China, the island has become a geopolitical hotspot. Both New Delhi and Beijing have invested generously in the development of the island as part of a long-term geopolitical outlook. While the Maldives President has stressed that it wants to work together with both India and China, he has underlined that the island nation is "too small to be entangled in geopolitical rivalry".

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

President Muizzu succeeds Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, whose tenure saw a boost in ties between the island nation and New Delhi. A former minister and Mayor of Male, President Muizzu is close to former President Abdulla Yameen, who borrowed heavily from Beijing during his tenure from 2013 to 2018. A year back, Muizzu had told the Chinese Communist Party that he wanted stronger ties with Beijing should his party win the elections. "We look forward to returning to government in 2023, with President Yameen at the helm, to script a further chapter of strong ties between our two countries, both domestically and internationally," he had said. When Yameen was barred from contesting the election because of a criminal conviction and an 11-year jail term for corruption, he nominated Muizzu.

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 for scores of such operations, the people said.

Following his election to the top post, Muizzu has pushed for the withdrawal of Indian troops from the Maldives on the grounds of security. "When it comes to our security, I will draw a red line. The Maldives will respect the red lines of other countries too," he said after being sworn in. He clarified in an interview with AFP that he does not intend to upend the regional balance by replacing the Indian military with Chinese troops. The Maldives President is clearly trying to strike a fine balance in its ties with India and China. In his meeting with Union Minister Rijiju, he discussed the progress in projects India is backing in the Maldives. "President Dr Muizzu and Minister Kiren Rijiju concluded the meeting with a renewed commitment to fortify the bilateral relations between the two countries," the statement 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”.

The Maldives is a small country stuck between the Geopolitical rivalry of two superpowers, India and China. Maldives has always tried to make a neutral stance though under previous leadership it was more leaned towards India. 

Maldives is a tourist destination for many Indians and it is also a great source of income for the small island nation. This move by the Maldivian government is mostly considered as Pro Chinese by experts.



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