Male: Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu has asked India to withdraw its military personnel from his country by March 15, a senior official here said on Sunday, nearly two months after Male sought their removal.
According to the latest government figures, there are 88 Indian military personnel in the Maldives.
In a press briefing, Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the public policy secretary at the President’s Office, said that President Muizzu has formally asked India to withdraw its military personnel by March 15, the SunOnline newspaper reported.
“Indian military personnel cannot stay in the Maldives. This is the policy of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu and that of this administration,” he said.
High level meeting
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 Sunday morning.
The meeting was also attended by Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar, the report said.
Nazim confirmed the meeting and said the agenda for the meeting was the request to withdraw troops by March 15.
The Indian government did not immediately confirm the media report or comment on it.
Muizzu’s formal request
Soon after taking oath as the President of Maldives on November 17 last year, Muizzu, who is regarded as a pro-China leader, formally requested India to withdraw its military personnel from his country, saying the Maldivian people have given him a “strong mandate” to make this request to New Delhi.
The request for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel comes amid a row between the two nations in the backdrop of derogatory comments posted by three deputy ministers of the Muizzu government against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Muizzu suspended the three ministers after their social media postings, which stirred concern in India and calls for a boycott by Indian tourists who ranked highest in numbers followed by Russia. Chinese tourists figured third.
During his just-concluded state visit to China, Muizzu sought to align Maldives closer to Beijing.
Muizzu’s indirect attack
Speaking to the press on Saturday after returning from China, President Muizzu indirectly attacked India.
Without naming any country, he said, “We may be small, but that doesn’t give you the license to bully us.”
He also announced plans to reduce the country’s dependency on India, including securing imports of essential food commodities and medicine and consumables from other countries.
“We aren’t in anyone’s backyard. We are an independent and sovereign state,” he said, addressing the reporters gathered at the Velana International Airport.
He said that no country has the right to exert influence over the domestic affairs of a country, regardless of its size.
He vowed that he would not allow any external influence on the domestic affairs of the Maldives.
Male is also reviewing more than 100 bilateral agreements with New Delhi signed by the previous government here.