President Mohamed Muizzu of the Maldives formally requested on Saturday that India withdraw its troops from his strategically located archipelago, fulfilling an election pledge on his first day in office.
Speaking with a visiting Indian minister, Muizzu asked New Delhi to recall personnel deployed to operate three gifted aircraft patrolling the maritime territory.
“The President formally made the request when he met the Minister of Earth Sciences of India Kiren Rijiju, at the President’s Office earlier today,” his office said in a brief statement.
It did not set a timeline or specify the number of personnel to be withdrawn, but Muizzu announced at his inauguration the previous day that removing foreign troops was a priority.
“The country will not have any foreign military personnel in the Maldives,” Muizzu said shortly after being sworn in at a televised, open-air ceremony.
“When it comes to our security, I will draw a red line. The Maldives will respect the red lines of other countries too.”
Earlier this week, Muizzu told AFP that his intention was not to upend the regional balance by replacing the Indian military with Chinese troops.
A former mayor of the capital Male and a construction minister for seven years, Muizzu had previously promised to cultivate “strong ties” with China, a key financial backer of his nation.
The country’s eighth president since independence from Britain in 1965, Muizzu was elected in September as a proxy for a pro-China predecessor jailed on corruption charges.
Primarily known as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in South Asia, with pristine white beaches and secluded resorts, the Maldives has also become a geopolitical hotspot.
Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation’s chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.
China was represented at Muizzu’s inauguration ceremony by State Councillor Shen Yiqin as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping, who visited the Maldives in 2014 when Muizzu’s mentor Abdulla Yameen was president.
India was represented by Rijiju.