India and the Maldives on Tuesday sought to take their ties to a higher level with the Indian Ocean island nation seeking an enhancement of defence cooperation with New Delhi.
Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed, who is currently on a five-day visit to India, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday evening and discussed a host of bilateral and regional issues including the expansion of economic ties and enlargement of cooperation in defence and education sectors.
Shaheed also briefed Manmohan Singh on the package of political reforms introduced by Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest serving leader, to create liberal, modern democracy in the atoll nation.
Shaheed, a key member of 'New Maldives' - a group of young reform-minded ministers and functionaries - also met Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee and discussed in detail the possible expansion of defence ties.
Maldives and India have regular training between their coast guards and defence personnel. "India has contributed greatly to capacity-building in our defence sector," Shaheed said.
He, however, rebutted reports of the Chinese involvement in the defence sector in the Maldives and dismissed a report that claimed that the Maldives had leased an island to China for military base as a canard spread by the opposition.
India has helped Maldives in times of national crises. In 1988, the then Rajiv Gandhi government sent troops, at the request of Gayoom, to thwart a coup attempt in his country.
India was one of the first countries to come to the rescue of the Maldives when the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami struck, killing hundreds and destroying properties worth millions.