India, Maldives move to cement ties (Roundup)

New Delhi, April 11 (IANS) Moving to cement ties after a period of unease, India and the Maldives on Monday inked six agreements, including on defence cooperation, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held talks with Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen here and affirmed that the strategic Indian Ocean archipelago nation is among India’s closest partners.

In his media statement after bilateral talks with Yameen, Modi said: “The Maldives is among India’s closest partners. The stability and security of the Maldives are in the strategic interest of India.”

He said he and President Yameen discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations as well as terrorism.

“We are united by ancient cultural links, strong people-to-people ties and the tides of the Indian ocean,” he said.

“India understands its role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean and is ready to protect its strategic interests in this region.”

He said the prompt implementation of a concrete action plan in the defence sector would strengthen security cooperation between the two countries.

Modi said that development of ports, continuous training, capacity building, supply of equipment and maritime surveillance would be the main elements of the security cooperation.

He also said that India was ready to be partner for the Maldives in its iHaven project, one of the most important projects in President Yameen’s economic vision, and is being developed under the new laws of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

The project has six main goals, which are to develop an airport, a harbour, bunkering services, real estate, shopping malls, and resorts on an atoll.

India and the Maldives exchanged six agreements in the fields of taxation, tourism, space research, defence and conservation of mosques following Monday’s talks.

“President Yameen and I are aware of the growing dangers of cross-border terrorism and radicalisation in South Asia,” Modi said, adding: “Information exchange between security agencies and training and capacity building of Maldives Police and security forces is an important part of our security cooperation.”.

Modi also said that the South Asian satellite proposed by India would help the Maldives in the fields of education, health and tourism.

He said the agreement on cooperation in the tourism sector would boost people-to-people ties.

The agreement on conservation of ancient mosques in the Maldives would strengthen cultural ties, he said.

“We welcome the Third Maldives Investment Forum that will take place in India and which will boost our trade and investment relations,” Modi said.

“President Yameen, India is a well-wisher and will match steps with the Maldives in its journey towards progress,” he stated.

On his part, Yameen said that India was the most important friend of the Maldives.

“India is the most important friend of the Maldives. Relations between the Maldives and India are based on the cherished principles of mutual respect…That is why the Maldives pursues an India first foreign policy,” he said.

Relations between India and the Maldives had cooled off following the incarceration of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who is viewed as a friend of India. India has also been uneasy of the growing closeness between the Maldives and China and Beijing’s increasing investments in that country, including an estimated $800 million development of Male airport by a Chinese company.

India’s GMR, which had bagged the initial contract to develop Male airport, was thrown out in 2013, adding to tension in ties.

Modi had also skipped making a visit to the archipelago nation in 2015.

However, both sides have been moving to mend ties. In December last year, India shipped shiploads of water to Male after a fire destroyed the generator of its biggest water treatment plant.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Male in October last year for the India-Maldives Joint Commission meeting, which was held after 15 years. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited the country in January this year.

Earlier on Monday, Sushma Swaraj called on President Yameen in his first engagement of the day in the city.

Yameen also met President Pranab Mukherjee before departing from India on Monday evening.

Yameen had earlier come to India on a bilateral visit in January 2014 and was among the South Asian leaders who attended Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in in May 2014.

India and the Maldives completed 50 years of diplomatic ties last year.

This year, Maldivian ministerial delegations to India, led by the foreign minister, defence minister, tourism minister, and foreign secretary “have further strengthened bilateral ties between India and Maldives”, said a Maldives high commission statement.

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