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


New Delhi: Maldives President Mohammed Muizzu, after recent anti-India rhetoric, has turned to a conciliatory tone, and stressed the importance of India as the Maldives' “closest ally”. He has urged New Delhi to expand debt relief For the archipelagic nation.
Maldives owed India about US$400.9 million at the end of last year.
Since assuming the office of President in November last year, the pro-China Maldivian leader has taken a tough stance towards India. Within hours of his inauguration, he demanded the repatriation of Indians. military personnel Till May 10, it is operating three aviation platforms from its country.
Muizzu, in his first interview with local media on Thursday after assuming office, said India has played a significant role in providing aid to the Maldives and has implemented the “largest number” of projects.
Maldives news portal said in a report that India will remain the Maldives' closest ally and stressed that there is no question about it, citing Muizzu's interview with Dhivehi language sister-publication 'Miharu'. Excerpts included.
Muizzu's positive remarks about India came after the departure of the initial group of Indian military personnel from the island nation as per schedule earlier this month. By 10 May, Muizzu insisted that all 88 military personnel deployed at three Indian aviation platforms should evacuate the country.
For several years now, India has been offering humanitarian aid and medical evacuation assistance to the Maldives, employing two helicopters and one Dornier aircraft for the purpose. The Maldives' proximity to India, with the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep only 70 nautical miles away and the mainland's west coast some 300 nautical miles away, underlines its strategic importance. Situated at the crossroads of important commercial sea routes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Maldives holds considerable strategic importance.
During the interview, Muizzu urged India to accommodate debt relief measures for the Maldives in repayment of the “huge debt taken by successive governments”.
“The conditions we have inherited are such that very large loans have been taken from India. Therefore, we are in discussions to find lenient measures in the repayment structure of these loans.
“Instead of stopping any ongoing projects…the idea is to move ahead with them at a faster pace, so I don't see any reason for any adverse impact (on Maldives-India relations),” Muizzoo said.
Muizzu's cordial comments towards India came ahead of parliamentary elections in the Maldives in mid-April.
He said that Maldives has taken significant loans from India, which is much more than the Maldivian economy can bear. “Due to this, he is currently in discussions with the Government of India to explore options to repay the loan according to the best economic capabilities of the Maldives,” the news portal quoted him as saying.
Muizzu, who expressed hope that India “will facilitate debt relief measures in the repayment of these loans,” also said he expressed his appreciation to the Government of India for their contribution.
Referring to his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Dubai, he said, “I also told Prime Minister Modi during our meeting that I do not intend to stop any ongoing projects. Instead, I have sought to strengthen them.” And expressed the desire to accelerate them.” On the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai in December 2023.
“I have suggested setting up a high-level committee to take quick decisions to ensure speedy work in the bridge project as well. Same is the case for Hanimadhu airport,” he said.
Responding to a question about Indian military personnel, Muizzu described it as a “single matter of dispute” that has arisen with India regarding the presence of Indian military in the Maldives and said that India has also accepted this fact and It has been agreed to withdraw the military personnel. ,
He said, “It is not good to dismiss or ignore the aid given from one country to another.” He claimed that he has not taken any action or made any statement which could harm the two countries. There may be tension in relationships.
He said, “Even if they are soldiers of another country, we will deal with them the same way. I have said this very clearly. This is nothing personal, but a matter of our national security.”
(with inputs from agencies)

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