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India, Maldives to step up defence cooperation

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MALE (PTI): In a move that will serve security interests of both India and Maldives, the two countries in the Indian Ocean region Thursday agreed on a series of measures to step up defence cooperation.

The decisions were taken during back-to-back meetings Defence Minister A K Antony, who is on a three-day visit to Maldives, had with Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed and Defence Minister Ameen Faisal, Indian Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said.

"India and Maldives today agreed on a series of measures to step up defence cooperation between the two countries," Kar said.

He said, "the Maldives defence leadership expressed concerns over the crucial tasks of safeguarding and protecting their vast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), while stating its need to develop and enhance maritime surveillance and aerial mobility capabilities".

At discussions with Maldives defence forces, the emerging security challenges in the region and the need to strengthen joint and collective mechanisms to mutually counter them were highlighted, he added.

Later, addressing a joint press conference with Faisal, Antony said the defence and security of both the countries were intertwined and that his visit was a reiteration of the existing robust relations between the two countries.

Antony said India and Maldives were "good friends and equal partners" in the new relationship and New Delhi would extend all assistance to Maldives based on the latter's requests.

The Indian Defence Minister said both countries faced myriad security challenges especially from the sea and it would be New Delhi's efforts to help its neighbor in whichever way it can.

To a query if his visit was driven by third country considerations, Antony said: "I did not come here to discuss about other countries. Do not go by rumours".

The purpose of his visit, Antony said, was not to enter into any agreement, but to expand cooperation within the existing robust framework.

On Maldives' behalf, Faisal said the relationship between the two countries was not based on any "self interest or undue influence."

"The people of Maldives are indeed grateful to India for its unconditional and selfless assistance in most trying times," Faisal added.

Antony is leading a high-level delegation which includes Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, Coast Guard D-G Vice Admiral Anil Chopra and Deputy Chief of Navy Staff Vice Admiral D K Joshi to Maldives.

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