External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj visited the Maldives on Saturday amid mounting international pressure on the country to free its jailed former leader Mohamed Nasheed.
Swaraj was received at the airport islet of Hulhule by her Maldivian counterpart Dunya Maumoon and the two women will hold official level talks on Sunday, the Maldivian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The External Affairs Minister is visiting the Maldives on the invitation of Foreign Minister Dunya,” the statement said.
It gave no details, but Indian authorities have suggested that the incarceration of Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically-elected leader, could figure during Swaraj’s two-day official visit.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told reporters on the eve of the visit that New Delhi expected a “fair and just” resolution to the controversial jailing of Nasheed, the nation’s main opposition leader.
A UN panel ruled last month that Nasheed’s jailing was illegal, he should be freed immediately and be compensated for his arbitrary arrest and detention by the government of President Abdulla Yameen, the half brother of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed, 48, was imprisoned for 13 years in March on terror charges related to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge when he was still president in 2012.
He was forced to step down in February 2012 following a mutiny by police and troops after weeks of protests led by loyalists of Gayoom who lost the first democratic presidential election to Nasheed in 2008.
India, which provided refuge to Nasheed at the Indian high commission in Male in early 2013 when he faced possible arrest, has tried but failed to end political bickering in the nation of 3,40,000 citizens.
“I can only say that as the world’s largest democracy we have always supported political pluralism and democracy in the Maldives,” Swarup said.
“We expect this issue (of Nasheed’s jailing) to be handled in accordance with laws and rules of Maldives, and hope that the outcome will be seen by everybody as being fair and just.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped the Maldives during his Indian Ocean island hopping visit earlier this year as Nasheed was thrown in jail.
The Maldives is a nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator and depends on upmarket tourism. However, its image has suffered in recent years due to prolonged political unrest.