India will replace its military personnel in the three aviation platforms in the Maldives by May 10 and the first phase of the process would be completed by March 10, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said on Friday after a high-level meeting between the two sides on the contentious issue.
The announcement came hours after the India-Maldives core group concluded a meeting in Delhi that primarily focused on finding a mutually workable solution to enable continued operation of the Indian military platforms in the island nation.
“During the meeting held at the Ministry of External Affairs,both sides reviewed the existing bilateral cooperation for improving and enhancing the partnership in the fields of defence and security cooperation, economic, and development partnership,” Maldivian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Both sides agreed that the Government of India will replace the military personnel in one of the three aviation platforms by 10 March 2024, and will complete replacing military personnel in the other two platforms by 10 May 2024,” it added.
Last month, Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu asked India to withdraw all its military personnel from the island nation by March 15.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said both sides agreed on a “set of mutually workable solutions” to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms in the island nation.
“During the meeting, both sides continued their discussions on wide ranging issues related to bilateral cooperation towards identifying steps to enhance the partnership, including expediting the implementation of ongoing development cooperation projects,” the MEA statement said.
“Both sides also agreed on a set of mutually workable solutions to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medvac services to the people of Maldives,” it added.
It has been agreed to hold the next meeting of the high-level core group in Male’ on a mutually convenient date.
Maldives and India have set up a high-level core group to negotiate the withdrawal of troops. The group held its first meeting at the Foreign Ministry Headquarters in Male on January 14.
At present, around 80 Indian military personnel are in the Maldives primarily to operate two helicopters and an aircraft which carried out hundreds of medical evacuations and humanitarian missions.
The ties between the two countries came under some strain since he came to power. Soon after taking oath as the President of Maldives on November 17 last year, Muizzu had formally requested India to withdraw its military personnel, saying the Maldivian people had given him a “strong mandate” to make this request to New Delhi.
Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, maintained after assuming charge as the president that he will keep his election promise of evicting Indian military personnel from his country. Muizzu, 45, defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September last year.
The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean Region and the overall bilateral ties including in areas of defence and security witnessed an upward trajectory under the previous government in Male.
– With PTI inputs