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Indian Civilian Technical Personnel Reach Maldives, Helicopter Replacement Planned

India has agreed to replace the military personnel in one of the three aircrafts by March 10 and the other two by May 10.
President Mohamed Muizzu addresses the Maldives parliament. Photo: X/@presidencymv

New Delhi: While a group of Indian civilian technical arrived in Maldives on Monday to take over aviation duties from Indian troops, the Maldivian defence ministry announced that India is also dispatching a helicopter this week to replace the current one, which is being brought back to home base for “repairs”.

India and Maldives had reached an agreement that the Indian soldiers operating the three aircraft would be replaced with non-military technical personnel. As per the understanding, revealed by the Maldivian side, India has agreed to replace the military personnel in one of the three aircraft by March 10 and the other two by May 10.

The decision was reached after President Mohamed Muizzu, who campaigned successfully on this electoral platform, asked for all Indian military personnel to be withdrawn from Maldives.

A Maldives defence ministry statement issued Monday night said that group of Indian civilians arrived in the Maldives on Monday evening to replace the Indian military personnel stationed in the country. 

“The civilian crew who will operate the helicopter in place of the Indian troops currently stationed in Seenu Gan (Addu city) has arrived in Maldives this evening,” the defence ministry said, as per a translation of the press note reported by local media outlet Adhadhu.

Significantly, the press note also provided new details about the exchange. It stated that the current helicopter will be sen back to India for “repairs”.

“Test flights of the helicopter stationed in Seenu Gan (Addu City) will be carried out starting February 27, 2024, before returning it to India for repairs,” said the Maldives defence ministry.

The new helicopter will be arriving by ship on Wednesday. “The ship carrying the new helicopter will arrive directly in Addu on February 28, 2024,” the statement read.

Earlier this month, Muizzu noted in his speech to inaugurate the opening of parliament that the withdrawal of Indian military personnel had been one of the key reasons for his successful electoral victory in the 2023 presidential elections. This demand had been cornerstone of the ruling alliance’s ‘India Out’ campaign, which began in 2020.

With the parliamentary elections looming large on March 17, the withdrawal of Indian troops will certainly figure in political rhetoric.

At a recent public speech, Muizzu had said that full withdrawal of Indian troops from Maldives will take place only if the ruling regime is successful in the parliamentary election. Currently, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Democrats holds a majority in the Majlis.

Last week, the new chairman of the MDP, Abdulla Shahid criticised the current administration’s “inability” to provide evidence for the allegation of “thousands of Indian military personnel” in the Maldives stems from the fact that there are no armed foreign soldiers stationed in the country. 

He also cautioned that constructing foreign policy on unfounded claims could erode trust and negatively impact the Maldives’ relations with other nations, including India.

The Muizzu administration had announced that there were around 89 Indian military personnel stationed to operate the two helicopters and one Dornier plane donated by India.

Former President Abdulla Yameen, who was the architect of the ‘India Out’ campaign, raised questions at a party meeting over Maldives military’s participation in a joint exercise with the Indian military at a time when the government has given a deadline to withdraw Indian military personnel from the Maldives. 

The Coast Guards of India, Sri Lanka and Maldives held a joint exercise, ‘Dosti XVI’ last week. Bangladesh Coast Guard also joined as observers.

While Yameen had backed Muizzu’s presidential candidature, they felt out after the elections, with the former president forming a new party, People’s National Front. Yameen, previously convicted of terror-related charges, was moved from prison to house arrest following Muizzu’s electoral triumph.

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