Maldives to Discuss Indian Troop Presence After Call for Removal

(Bloomberg) -- Maldives’ new government, which called for the removal of Indian troops from its territory, will hold discussions with New Delhi on the presence of such personnel.

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The two sides will study workable solutions for continued cooperation, according to senior Indian officials familiar with the talks, asking not to be identified because the discussions are private.

President Mohamed Muizzu acknowledged the Indian military’s role in helping its citizens but “formally requested” for their withdrawal in a meeting with visiting Indian minister Kiren Rijiju on Saturday, according to a statement from the leader’s office.

The call for the troop removal intensifies a struggle between India and China for influence in the archipelago, which sits along busy shipping routes in the Indian Ocean. Successive governments in Male have tilted toward either side, and both the Asian powerhouses have invested heavily in upgrading Maldives infrastructure and extending loans.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment when asked for confirmation of the discussions. Muizzu’s office did not respond to a request for comment outside of regular business hours.

Around 70 Indian military personnel maintain New Delhi-sponsored radar stations and surveillance aircrafts. Indian warships help patrol Maldives’ exclusive economic zone while its navy’s helicopters and aircraft on the island are also used for medical evacuation.

Muizzu, 45, leads a party that has welcomed Chinese loans. The nation of just over 500,000 people and spread over 187 inhabited islands is a tourist destination and at the frontlines of climate change.

The US and its allies, such as Japan and Australia, are looking to isolate an increasingly assertive and assured Beijing and have invested heavily in propping up New Delhi as a regional counterweight and key partner in Asia. Muizzu’s predecessor, Ibrahim Solih, had steered the country closer to India.

During a heated election campaign, Muizzu accused Solih of allowing India unchecked sway over the island nation’s affairs and of surrendering sovereignty by allowing Indian troops to be stationed there.

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