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Maldives military: Maldives military to have operational control of helicopter and civilian crew from India: MNDF official

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The Maldivian defence force on Thursday said it will have operational authority over the helicopter given by India to the island nation and the civilian crew that will pilot it. Addressing a press conference, the Principal Director of Plans, Policy, and Resources Management for the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Colonel Ahmed Mujuthaba Mohamed said that discussions are underway for withdrawing Indian troops from the Maldives.

He emphasised that the government of President Mohamed Muizzu has decided not to permit any foreign troops to remain stationed in the Maldives beyond May 10, PSM News, the state broadcaster reported.

Last week, India said its first civilian team of technical experts has reached the Maldives to replace the military personnel operating an advanced light helicopter in the island nation.

“The first team of technical personnel to operate the advanced light helicopter has reached the Maldives. It will replace the existing personnel who were operating this platform,” Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said at his weekly media briefing on February 29.

Following a second meeting of the high-level core group that was set up to address the issue of withdrawal of the Indian military personnel, the Maldivian foreign ministry had said India will replace all its military personnel in two phases by May 10.

India’s ties with the Maldives came under stress as Muizzu, seen as a pro-China leader, maintained after assuming charge as the president in November that he would keep his election promise of expelling all Indian military personnel from his country. Muizzu had set March 10 as the deadline for the withdrawal of the first group of Indian military personnel from his country. His government this week signed a deal with China’s military under which Beijing will supply “non-lethal” weapons to the Maldives free of cost. Local media quoted President Muizzu as saying that the non-lethal weaponry would include tear gas and pepper spray.

Colonel Mujthaba also said that the Indian helicopter stationed in Addu City is currently undergoing repairs, and in its place, 26 civilians have arrived in the Maldives with a replacement helicopter.

He noted that the familiarisation process is in progress and said the Indian troops will depart from the Maldives as planned. He also said the MNDF will have operational authority of the Indian civilians and vehicles associated with the helicopter.

According to the Maldivian government, 88 Indian military personnel were in the Maldives primarily to operate two helicopters and an aircraft that have carried out hundreds of medical evacuations and humanitarian missions.

The Indian aviation platforms have provided humanitarian and medical evacuation services to the Maldivians for the last few years.

Muizzu defeated India-friendly incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the presidential runoff held in September last year.

The Maldives is one of India’s key maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean region. The overall bilateral ties, including in defence and security, witnessed an upward trajectory under the previous government in Male.

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