India, Maldives hold 2nd meeting on Male’s demand to withdraw military personnel | Latest News India

India, Maldives hold 2nd meeting on Male’s demand to withdraw military personnel | Latest News India

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NEW DELHI: India and the Maldives on Friday held the second round of talks on Male’s demand for the withdrawal of all Indian military personnel from the Indian Ocean archipelago against the backdrop of strained relations between the two sides.

)he Maldives is in hot water over calls by Indian celebrities for a boycott of the tropical beach destination, following “derogatory remarks” about Prime Minister Narendra Modi by its ministers. (AFPFILE PHOTO)

Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu asked India to withdraw the military personnel by March 15 when the high-level core group set up by the two countries held its first meeting in Male on January 14. At the time, the Maldives contended in a statement at the time that the two sides agreed to fast-track the withdrawal of the personnel, but the Indian side had said more discussions would be held on the issue.

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There was no word from either side on Wednesday’s meeting of the core group that was held at the external affairs ministry in New Delhi. People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that differences persisted between the two sides on the matter.

The core group was set up following a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Muizzu on the margins of the COP28 meeting in Dubai last month. India-Maldives ties have come under considerable strain after Muizzu took several steps to move his country closer to China and to reduce dependence on India in crucial areas such as healthcare and food security.

Muizzu, whose campaign for last year’s presidential election centred around an “India out” platform, has called on New Delhi to withdraw more than 75 military personnel posted in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft, which are primarily used for medical evacuations and humanitarian missions.

In addition to signing agreements for buying wheat from Turkiye, the Maldives government has sought Sri Lanka’s help for medical evacuation services. Muizzu has personally appealed to China to send more tourists to the Maldives, where India has been the main source country for travellers for the past two years.

Though the Maldives’ foreign ministry had said in a statement after the core group’s meeting on January 14 that the two sides had “agreed to fast-track the withdrawal of Indian military personnel”, a readout from the external affairs ministry said discussions were held on finding a “mutually workable solution to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medevac services”.

Maldives’ public policy secretary Abdulla Nazim later clarified that the government’s stance was that civilian workers could remain in the Maldives to operate flights but military personnel would have to leave.

The people cited above said the two sides were looking at several options to address the issue, including a reduction in the number of military personnel, who could be replaced by civilian experts capable of operating and maintaining the aircraft.

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