Maldives President Seeks Debt Relief From India After Pursuing Hardline Stance Since Assuming Office

Last Updated: March 22, 2024, 20:23 IST

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu earlier said he wants to strengthen the Maldivian military and upgradation of the Maldivian military should not worry any nation. (Image: Reuters)

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu earlier said he wants to strengthen the Maldivian military and upgradation of the Maldivian military should not worry any nation. (Image: Reuters)

Maldives President Muizzu calls India “closest ally,” urges debt relief amidst escalating tensions over military presence

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, in a recent interview, appeared to soften his tone, when he asserted that India will remain his country’s “closest ally” and urged New Delhi to provide debt relief to the archipelago nation.

On Thursday, Muizzu, previously known for his anti-India stance, said New Delhi was instrumental in providing aid to Male and has implemented the “greatest number” of projects, local news portal reported. India will continue to remain the Maldives’ closest ally, he said, stressing that there was no question about it.

The Maldivian leader’s comments in his first interview with the local media since assuming office came after the first batch of Indian military personnel left the island nation this month as planned. He had demanded that all 88 military personnel, manning the three Indian aviation platforms, should leave the country. Since he took office as president in November last year, the pro-China Maldivian leader has pursued a hardline stance towards India, even as the Maldives owed approximately USD 400.9 million to India by the end of last year.

‘Accommodate debt relief’

In 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 remarks 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. During the previous regime, headed by pro-India leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s administration, the total amount of loans taken from the Export and Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) stood at USD 1.4 million (MVR 22 million). “Together with this, the amount owed by Maldives to India by the end of last year stood at MVR 6.2 billion, he said.

‘Did not intend to halt any projects’

“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.

Read MoreBatch of Indian Troops Leave Maldives After Arrival of Civilian Staff: Report

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.

Read MoreMaldives Won’t Renew Hydrographic Survey Pact with India, Says Atoll-Nation Will Conduct Study by Itself

Amid his tenuous ties with India, Muizzu had pursued an obvious pro-China policy starting with his January visit to Beijing. During his China visit, he signed a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership besides signing 20 agreements to assist Maldives infrastructure after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

China also announced a USD 130 million grant besides promising to send more Chinese tourists to the tourism-dependent Maldives. After his return from China, Muizzu, without naming any country, said Maldives may be a small country, but “that is not a license for anybody to bully us.” Muizzu also terminated a hydrography agreement with India and has been claiming that the Indian Ocean does not belong to any particular country.

(With agency inputs)

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