India, Maldives agree on 'mutually workable solutions' for operating aircraft | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India, Maldives agree on 'mutually workable solutions' for operating aircraft

Feb 03, 2024 05:10 AM IST

Bilateral ties are currently at a fresh low, with the Muizzu government taking a number of steps to move the Maldives closer to China.

India said on Friday it had agreed on “mutually workable solutions” with the Maldives for operating three aircraft in the Indian Ocean archipelago, with all Indian military personnel who fly and maintain the platforms expected to be withdrawn by May.

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. (AFP / FILE PHOTO)
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. (AFP / FILE PHOTO)

Following the second meeting of the high-level core group set up by India and the Maldives to address the issue of the military personnel, the external affairs ministry said the solutions worked out by the two sides would “enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medevac services to the people of Maldives”.

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A readout from the Maldivian foreign ministry provided details of the solutions, saying the two sides had agreed the Indian government “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”.

Read here: India, Maldives hold 2nd meeting on Male’s demand to withdraw military personnel

A statement issued by the external affairs ministry was silent on the issue of withdrawing the Indian military personnel. The details provided by the Maldives showed that the solutions reflected a compromise on Muizzu’s demand that India should withdraw all its military personnel from the Maldives by March 15.

Bilateral ties are currently at a fresh low, with the Muizzu government taking a number of steps to move the Maldives closer to China and to reduce dependence on India in crucial areas such as healthcare and food security.

People familiar with the matter said the Indian side is considering several options to replace more than 75 military personnel currently deployed in the Maldives to operate two ALH helicopters and a Dornier aircraft that were provided by New Delhi. One option is replacing the military personnel with civilian operators familiar with the two platforms, including retired personnel from the three services with experience of flying and maintaining the aircraft, the people said.

The Maldivian side had earlier clarified that Indian civilian workers can remain in the Maldives to operate flights, but any military personnel would have to leave.

A statement from the external affairs ministry said the high-level core group continued discussions on wide-ranging issues related to bilateral cooperation to identify steps to enhance the India-Maldives partnership, including expediting the implementation of development cooperation projects.

Besides agreeing on the mutually workable solutions for operating the Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the people of Maldives, the two sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the core group in Male on a mutually convenient date.

The readout from the Maldivian foreign ministry said both sides reviewed existing bilateral cooperation for “improving and enhancing the partnership in the fields of defence and security cooperation, economic, and development partnership”. It added that the next meeting of the core group is expected to be held during the last week of February.

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, when India-Maldives ties were already under considerable strain.

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

In addition to signing an agreement 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.

India provided the three aircraft to the Maldives to carry our search and rescue operations, provide humanitarian assistance and conduct surveillance of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The aircraft, though operated by Indian personnel, were under the direct control of the Maldives National Defence Force and carried out more than 600 medical evacuations and humanitarian missions that saved scores of lives.

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