New Delhi: After Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s assertion that India had agreed to withdraw its soldiers from the island nation two days after meeting with the Indian prime minister, Indian officials disputed the claim, stating that no decision has yet been made and that discussions were still ongoing.
On the sidelines of the COP summit in Dubai on Friday (December 1), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met with Maldivian President Muizzu for the first time since the latter’s inauguration last month.
On his return to Malé, President Muizzu told reporters that “an agreement had been reached to withdraw Indian military personnel, which is currently in progress at a technical level,” as per a press release issued by the president’s office.
Muizzu recalled that he had held a series of constructive meetings and dialogues with the Indian government. Since winning the election on September 30, he engaged in two discussions with the Indian high commissioner to Malé, followed by a meeting with the Indian delegation during his inaugural ceremony.
Lastly, he had a meeting with the Indian prime minister in Dubai.
“In the discussions we had, the Indian government has agreed to remove Indian soldiers,” he said on Sunday according to Reuters.
He also stated that the “high level committee” had been set up “to solve issues related to development projects”.
There was no official comment from the Ministry of External Affairs, but a few hours later, Indian official sources said that the issue was “briefly discussed” in Dubai at the discussions between the leaders.
Indian sources described the issue as the “status of Indian platforms in [the] Maldives engaged in HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] activities”, since the Indian defence personnel had been stationed in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft for medical evacuation purposes.
“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,” the official sources said.
The Indian side also noted that the “continued usefulness of the Indian platforms” had to be “looked at in a proper perspective”.
Sources said that the Maldivian government “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,” they claimed.
Indian official sources contested the Maldivian president’s claim that the bilateral panel’s focus was solely on expediting Indian development projects.
Instead, they clarified that the agreed-upon objective was to explore solutions on keeping the operations of the helicopters and Dornier aircraft operational, which was obviously linked with the stationing of Indian personnel.
A major promise of Muizzu’s presidential election campaign had been to remove Indian troops from the Maldives. He claimed the troops hindered the island nation’s sovereignty.
A day after he was sworn in, he formally requested India to withdraw the Indian troops from Maldivian soil.
A senior official at the new Maldivian president’s office had also publicly disclosed for the first time that there were 77 Indian troops stationed in the Maldives.
He said that 50 personnel were engaged in the operations of the two choppers, while the Dornier aircraft required 25 people.