Amid strained ties, Maldives President Muizzu seeks debt relief from India; calls it ‘closest ally’

Public TV English
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MALE: Toeing a reconciliatory tone after a diplomatic row with India, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has requested New Delhi for debt relief measures, while stating that India will continue to remain Maldives’ “closest ally”, local media reported.

He further claimed that he has “not taken any action nor made any statements” that may strain the relationship between the two countries. Notably, this was President Muizzu’s first interview since assuming office.

In an interview with local media ‘Mihaaru’, President Muizzu said that he hopes India will accommodate debt relief measures for the Maldives’ in the repayment of the hefty loans taken from the country over consecutive governments.

“The conditions we have inherited are such that there are very large loans taken from India. Hence, we are holding discussions to explore leniencies in the repayment structure of these loans. Instead of halting any ongoing projects, proceed with them at speed. So I see no reason for any adverse effects (on Maldives-India relations)”, he said.

Maldives-based ‘The Edition’ reported that during former Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration, Maldives took a $1.4 million loan from India’s Export and Import Bank (Exim Bank). Together with this, the amount owed by Maldives to India by the end of last year stood at 6.2 billion Maldivian Rufiyaa.

Notably, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has displayed ‘anti-India’ rhetoric and he even ran the electoral campaign on the line of ‘India Out’. Since coming to power, he has taken several steps that have been unconventional from the point of India-Maldives ties.

He departed from a long convention by not visiting India on the first official visit and instead went to Turkey, followed by China. Last December, Maldives said it would not renew the Hydrographic Survey agreement made with India, a Maldives-based news website.

On being asked about his demand for the withdrawal of Indian troops from Maldives, Muizzu said that his aim was to encourage the country to become ‘self-sufficient’. President Dr Muizzu stated that his aim was to encourage the Maldives to become self-sufficient.

“However, there should not be Indian troops in the Maldives,” Muizzu said. “The most important thing is to not have troops. The second best option is for Maldivians to operate them. A solution has been reached as a compromise between these two options”.

He further said that the main aim is to remove any foreign troops from the country, adding that it is a matter of ‘national security’. “That is, instead of Maldivians, their (Indian) civilians will be there. We are giving the top priority to achieving the most important target; which is the removal of (Indian) military personnel”, the Maldives President said.

“There is only one main issue. That is, foreign military having a presence in the Maldives, and those troops being from India”, he said. “Even if they are troops of some other country, we will deal with them in the same manner. I have said so very clearly. It is nothing personal, but rather a matter of our national security”, he added.

The removal of Indian troops from the country was the main election campaign of Muizzu’s party. Currently, there are around 70 Indian troops, along with Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft and two HAL Dhruv helicopters, stationed in the Maldives.

On the second day of assuming office, Muizzu officially requested the Indian government to withdraw its military personnel from the Maldives.

After Muizzu government officially requested India to withdraw troops, a High-Level Core Group was set up between the two countries to discuss the matter.

The third meeting of the India-Maldives High-Level Core Group was held in Male last week, where the two sides reviewed the ongoing deputation of Indian technical personnel to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian services to people of Maldives, the Ministry of External Affairs said.

The first batch of Indian personnel in the Maldives has been replaced by technical personnel and the remaining troops will also be replaced by May 10.

The Maldives President further said that he had no objections to India developing various projects across the Maldives. He also stated that India has been instrumental in providing aid to the Maldives and has implemented the greatest number of projects in the Maldives. President Muizzu said he has conveyed his appreciation to the Indian government for their contributions as well, The Edition reported.

“I also conveyed to Prime Minister Modi during our meeting that I did not intend to halt any ongoing projects. Instead, I expressed my desire to strengthen and expedite them”, he said.

President Muizzu stated that India will continue to remain the Maldives’ “closest ally” and emphasized that there was no question about it.

The row between New Delhi and Male erupted after three Maldivian deputy ministers made derogatory comments against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, over his pictures from the visit to Lakshadweep.

PM Modi had called for the Indian island cluster to be developed as a destination for beach tourism and promotion of domestic tourism.

The matter snowballed into a major diplomatic row, with New Delhi summoning the Maldivian envoy and registering a strong protest against the viral posts. The three deputy ministers were suspended and they remain under suspension with pay.

Recently, Maldives Tourism Ministry data showed that the number of Indian tourists visiting the Maldives has dropped by 33 per cent as compared to last year.(ANI)

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