The Maldives has formally called on India to withdraw all military personnel stationed on its territory, the president’s office said in a statement on Sunday, adding that 77 Indian troops are currently located in the archipelagic state in the Indian Ocean.
The island nation’s new president, Mohamed Muizzu, assumed office on Friday after becoming the Maldives’ fifth democratically elected leader. The key to his triumph at the polls was a pledge to remove any foreign military influence from the state. Muizzu, who is viewed as being pro-China, also campaigned on balancing trade and reducing the Maldives’ Indian influence, in contrast with his predecessor, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who’d cultivated close ties with New Delhi.
In a press release issued on Sunday, the Maldivian president’s office said it was officially disclosing “the presence of 77 Indian military personnel stationed within Maldivian territory.” It added that the majority of the troops in question are involved in various aircraft operations, while others are responsible for their maintenance and engineering.
“The Maldivian people had given [President Muizzu] a strong mandate to make the request to India and expressed the hope that India will honor the democratic will of the people of the Maldives,” Muizzu’s office said separately on Saturday, as part of its request for an Indian military withdrawal.
The Indian military uses helicopters in the region to assist in the rescue of people stranded on islands in the Maldives or who are otherwise facing varying types of dangers, Associated Press (AP) reported.
India’s defense ministry has so far not formally commented on the request. An unnamed senior official in Narendra Modi’s Indian government said, according to Reuters on Sunday, that “it was agreed that the two governments would discuss workable solutions for continued cooperation.” The official did not clarify if India intends to remove its military presence, the news agency said.
In an audience with the newly-elected Muizzu on Saturday, India’s minister of earth sciences, Kiren Rijiju, “expressed his aspiration to foster a constructive relationship with the Maldives,” the president’s office added, while “acknowledging the presence of a vibrant Indian community residing in the Maldives.”
September’s presidential election, in which Muizzu was a surprise victor, was generally regarded as a referendum on whether Maldivians would prefer China or India to hold influence over the archipelago, AP noted.