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Close ties with Maldives, Centre to decide on recalling military staff: Navy Chief | India News

India has close cooperation with Maldives and any decision to scale down Indian military personnel presence from the key island nation will be based on instructions from the Central Government, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said on Friday.

Addressing the media ahead of Navy Day on December 4, the top naval officer said India has “a few assets” deployed in Maldives, adding that India has assisted the country in multiple ways over the last five years, including carrying out over 500 medical evacuations, and helping the country with surveillance to detect illegal activities in the maritime domain.

“As far as scaling down of personnel is concerned, it is a decision of the government. Whatever instructions are given to us, we will follow,” he said, emphasising New Delhi’s close ties with the country in spheres of training as well as Maldives’ participation in important events organised recently by the Navy such as the Goa Maritime Conclave and the Indo-Pacific Regional Dialogue.

Admiral Kumar’s comments come in the backdrop of Maldives formally requesting India to withdraw its military personnel from the country earlier this month. Maldives is among the key maritime neighbours of India in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and India has been seeking to expand ties with the island nation — including in areas of defence and security — amid China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region. In May, both countries had launched the construction of a harbour for the Coast Guard of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

Earlier this month, Maldives President Dr Mohamed Muizzu had formally sought withdrawal of Indian military personnel from Maldives during a meeting with Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju.

Festive offer

Speaking about increasing Chinese forays into the Indian Ocean Region, Admiral Kumar said China may have legitimate reason to be present in the IOR for economic activities.

“We keep an eye on what all is happening there. We try to maintain surveillance of the extra regional forces present in this region and would like to know what activities they are engaged in and their intentions,” he said.

He said the Navy’s ships, submarines, and aircraft have sustained a high operational tempo and have undertaken missions and tasks encompassing military, diplomatic, constabulary and benign roles, adding that naval units were on mission-based deployments across the IOR and beyond to protect and promote India’s national interests.

He said there are disputes in the Indo-Pacific which have the possibility of turning into conflicts and there are challenges such as IUU fishing, drug trafficking, piracy, illegal migration and robbery and it is important that dialogues continue to maintain peace and tranquility in the Indo-Pacific.

Admiral Kumar also said India has a long-standing partnership with the US and both countries have participated in a range of exercises, including Malabar, which began in 1993 and over the years have turned into a complex multilateral exercise, and other defence agreements signed between the two countries.

He said the Indian Navy and the US Navy have reached a high level of interoperability in joint exercises involving ships, submarines, aircraft and aircraft carriers.

In the last year, both sides have signed an agreement to develop underwater domain awareness and there is also enhanced cooperation between the two sides on technology, Admiral Kumar said, highlighting Indian shipyards’ growing capabilities in shipbuilding and repairs and India procuring MQ9B drones from the US.

To a question on the status of the eight former Naval personnel in Qatar, Admiral Kumar said the government is making extensive efforts to repatriate them.

“We are working closely to ensure that their interests are looked after. The government of India is putting all-out efforts to ensure they are brought back,” he said.

The former Navy personnel were given death sentence by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26, following which an appeal has already been filed against the death sentence, which has been admitted by a higher court in Qatar. The charges in the case have not been made public.

Admiral Kumar said the Navy has made a univocal commitment to be fully “atmanirbhar” by 2047 in capabilities, capacities and concepts, while stating that the Navy is committed to greater jointness between the defence forces.

He said as India’s maritime interests and investments grow, it will mandate expansion in the Navy’s responsibilities and operational footprint to protect these interests.

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