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Maldives prez tones down anti-India rhetoric, urges New Delhi to extend debt relief

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NEW DELHI: Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, following recent anti-India rhetoric, has shifted to a reconciliatory tone, emphasizing India’s significance as Maldives’ “closest ally.” He has urged New Delhi to extend debt relief to the archipelago nation.
The Maldives owed approximately USD 400.9 million to India by the end of last year.
Ever since assuming office as president in November last year, the pro-China Maldivian leader has adopted a firm stance towards India.Within hours of his inauguration, he demanded the repatriation of Indian military personnel operating three aviation platforms from his country by May 10.
Muizzu on Thursday in his first interview with the local media since assuming office said that India was instrumental in providing aid to the Maldives and has implemented the “greatest number” of projects.
India will continue to remain the Maldives’ closest ally, he said and emphasised that there was no question about it, Maldives news portal Edition.mv said in a report that carried excerpts of Muizzu’s interview to its Dhivehi language sister-publication ‘Mihaaru.’
Muizzu’s positive remarks about India followed the departure of the initial group of Indian military personnel from the island nation as scheduled earlier this month. By May 10, Muizzu insisted that all 88 military personnel, stationed at the three Indian aviation platforms, should vacate the country.
For several years now, India has been offering humanitarian aid and medical evacuation support to the Maldives, employing two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft for this purpose. The Maldives’ close proximity to India, with Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep just 70 nautical miles away and the mainland’s western coast approximately 300 nautical miles distant, underscores its strategic significance. Situated at the crossroads of crucial commercial sea routes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Maldives holds considerable strategic value.
During the interview, Muizzu urged India to accommodate debt relief measures for the Maldives in the repayment of “the hefty loans taken over consecutive governments.”
“The conditions we have inherited are such that there are very large loans taken from India. Hence, we are holding discussions to explore leniencies in the repayment structure of these loans.
“Instead of halting any ongoing projects … to proceed with them at speed, so I see no reason for any adverse effects (on Maldives-India relations),” Muizzu added.
Muizzu’s conciliatory comments towards India came ahead of Parliament elections in Maldives slated in mid-April.
He said Maldives has taken significant loans from India, which are heftier than can be borne by the Maldivian economy. “Due to this, he is currently discussing with the Indian government to explore options to repay the loans to the best of the Maldives’ economic capabilities,” the news portal said quoting him.
Muizzu, who expressed hope that India would “facilitate debt relief measures in the repayment of these loans,” also said that he has conveyed his appreciation to the Indian government for their contributions.
“I also conveyed to Prime Minister Modi during our meeting that I did not intend to halt any ongoing projects. Instead, I expressed my desire to strengthen and expedite them” he said, referring to his discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dubai on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai in December 2023.
“I suggested a high-level committee be established, one designed for quick decision-making even in the bridge project to ensure speedy work. The same for the Hanimaadhoo Airport,” he added.
Answering a question about Indian military personnel, Muizzu termed it as “the only matter of contention” that arose with India about the presence of Indian military in the Maldives and added that India, too, had accepted the fact and agreed to withdraw the military personnel.
“It is not nice to dismiss or disregard aid from one country to another as useless,” he said and claimed that he had not taken any action or made any statements that may strain the relationship between the two countries.
“Even if they are troops of some other country, we will deal with them in the same manner. I have said so very clearly. It is nothing personal but rather a matter of our national security,” he added.
(with inputs from agencies)

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