Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Mohamed Muizz agreed to set up a “core group to manage” and “deepen relations,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said, as the two leaders try to ease tensions over Indian military personnel based on the island nation.
Modi and Muizz met in the UAE on sidelines of the COP28 Summit Friday, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Muizzu, 45, who swept the polls to become president in September, leads a party that has welcomed Chinese loans and wants Indian military personnel to leave the island.
The nation of about 500,000 people spread over 187 inhabited islands is a tourist destination and at the frontlines of climate change.
The call for the Indian troop removal intensifies a struggle between India and China for influence in the archipelago, which is situated on 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 have extended loans to the country.
About 70 Indian military personnel maintain New Delhi-sponsored radar stations and surveillance aircrafts in the Maldives, while Indian warships help patrol its exclusive economic zone.
India’s personnel help Maldives with medical evacuations and to prevent illegal activity in their maritime area, India’s Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar on Monday told reporters in New Delhi.