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India announces raft of initiatives for Maldives including in defence sector

NEW DELHI (PTI): India on Tuesday announced it will provide the Maldives two naval vessels and rolled out a raft of assistance including a USD 100 million lines of credit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserting that close defence and security coordination between the two sides is vital for peace and stability in the entire region.

After wide-ranging talks between Modi and visiting President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the two sides signed six agreements to expand overall cooperation in a range of areas such as cyber security, housing and disaster management.

In his media statement, Modi said India "has been and will" continue to be the "first responder" to any need or crisis facing the island nation.

On his part, Solih, who arrived here on Monday on a four-day visit, said the Maldives will always remain a "true friend" of India and its relationship with New Delhi will always be of "highest priority".

In the talks, Modi announced the supply of the second Landing Assault Craft (LCA) ship and a replacement vessel for a ship provided earlier to the Maldives National Defence Force.

The prime minister also announced the gifting of 24 utility vehicles to the Maldives National Defence Force besides extending assistance in building police facilities in 61 islands in that country.

The development initiatives unveiled by India included an extension of USD 100 million in a new line of credit, approval to the award of contract for the USD 128 million Hanimadhoo airport project and a green signal for the commencement of tendering process of the USD 324 million Gulhifahlu port development project.

India also announced approval to carry out the feasibility report and financial closure for a USD 30 million cancer hospital project and USD 119 million "buyer's credit financing" by Exim Bank of India for additional 2,000 social housing units in Hulhumale.

The Maldivian side listed the facilitation of duty-free tuna exports to India from it as a key move to boost trade.

A joint statement said Modi and Solih agreed on "energising" cooperation in maritime safety and security and they expressed satisfaction with the speedy progress made in the pre-construction phase of the Coast Guard Harbour at SIFAVARU.

"Recognising that the security of India and the Maldives are inter-linked, the two leaders reiterated their assurance to be mindful of each other's concerns on the security and stability of the region; and to not allow their respective territories to be used for any activity inimical to the other," it said.

The bolstering of bilateral defence and security ties including in the maritime domain comes in the backdrop of concerns over China's growing forays into the Indian Ocean region, considered the backyard of the Indian Navy.

Modi and Solih also condemned terrorism in all its forms and called for enhanced coordination between the security agencies of the two countries to thwart radicalisation, violent extremism, terrorism and narco-trafficking.

Solih also met President Droupadi Murmu, becoming the first foreign leader to do so after she assumed charge of the top office.

After their talks, Modi and Solih virtually launched the construction of the India-funded 'Greater Male connectivity project', billed as the largest infrastructure initiative being rolled out in the island nation.

"Today, the India-Maldives partnership is not only working in the interest of the citizens of both the countries but is also becoming a source of peace, stability and prosperity for the region," Modi said in his media statement.

"India has been and will continue to be the first responder in any need or crisis of Maldives," he added.

The prime minister said the threat of trans-national crime, terrorism and drug trafficking is serious in the Indian Ocean and close India-Maldives ties were vital for peace in the entire region.

"We have increased our cooperation against all these common challenges. It also includes capacity building and training support for Maldivian security officials," he said.

Modi said he and Solih reviewed projects for the construction of 4,000 social housing units in Greater Male and announced that India will additionally provide financial support for 2,000 social housing units.

The Greater Male connectivity project is being implemented with India's assistance of USD 500 while the construction of 4,000 housing units in Hulhumale is being funded under Exim Bank of India's credit finance of USD 227 million.

Asked at a media briefing about the "India-out" campaign in the Maldives and whether it figured in the talks, Indian High Commissioner to that country, Munu Mahawar referred to Solih reaffirming his Male's India first policy.

"President Solih said there is a strong and genuine desire (in the Maldives" to strengthen ties with India. These campaigns are based on misinformation, and false propaganda and they do not reflect the views of the people of the Maldives," he said.

The high commissioner said the defence cooperation between the two countries is aimed at dealing with the challenges unitedly.

The Maldivian President said his government is fully committed to taking the bilateral ties to new heights.

"Our relationship with India will always be of the highest priority. The Maldives will always remain a true friend of India, firmly committed to our shared vision of peace and development in our countries and the region," Solih said.

The Maldivian leader also thanked India for its generous assistance when his country was reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Was it not for generous assistance received in the form of budgetary support, medical assistance and supplies, and the Covishield vaccines donated by the government of India, our economic recovery would have been hard and long," he said.

Solih said he and Modi also discussed the challenge of terrorism.

"We both reiterated our firm commitment towards work against terrorism and strengthen cooperation in the maritime safety and security in the Indian Ocean Region," he said.

Referring to the cyber security pact, he said it is based on "equality reciprocity and mutual benefit".

The Maldivian President also invited Indian investors to explore the opportunities in his country and forge a mutually beneficial partnership.

"We welcome the operationalisation of the RuPay cards in the Maldives and agreed to consider further measures to boost bilateral travel and tourism and economic linkages," Solih said.

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India  Maldives  Defence  

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