India, Maldives resolve to expand defence cooperation

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New Delhi, April 12: Moving forward after a spell of unease in ties, India and Maldives Monday inked six pacts including a key one on expanding defence cooperation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of the island nation Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom held wide-ranging talks on a range of key issues.

Combating terrorism and radicalisation, enhancing India’s involvement in major infrastructure projects like development of ports and Special Economic Zones in Maldives figured prominently in the talks but the central focus was on defence and security ties.

Listing details of the outcome of the deliberations, Modi, at a joint press interaction with Yameen, said India “understands its responsibility as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region and India is fully ready to protect its military interest in this part of the globe.”

Relations between India and Maldives hit a rough patch after Modi had cancelled a trip to that country last year following the arrest former president Mohamed Nasheed. There has been apprehension in the establishment here about China’s growing involvement in the Indian Ocean region and in Maldives.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Maldives in October last year, in a bid to improve ties with the strategically located country, where China has been trying to expand influence.

The Prime Minister, without elaborating, said a concrete action plan for stepping up defence cooperation has been arrived at whose early implementation will significantly strengthen the ties.

“It is an important day in the history of cooperation between India and Maldives,” Modi said, asserting that contours of the ties between the two countries “is defined by engament in military, defence and economic speheres.”

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Modi also said it is in India’s strategic interest to have a stable and secure Maldives and that its challenges are India’s concerns.

“We are conscious of security needs of Maldives. President Yameen agreed that Maldives will be sensitive to our strategic and security interests. It is clear that the contours of India-Maldives relations are defined by our shared strategic, security, economic and developmental goals,” Modi said.

On his part, Yameen said his country pursues an “India first” foreign policy and described it as most important friend of Maldives.

The ‘Action Plan’ on defence envisages an institutional mechanism at the level of the Defence Secretaries to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation.

In the talks it was agreed that India will set up a police academy, build the Defence Ministry building of Maldives besides speeding up infrastructure projects relating to security. India will also extend all possible assistance to the island nation, including in maritime sphere and capacity building of armed forces.

Modi said development of ports, enhancing training and capacity building, supply of necessary equipment and surveillance of the sea were part of the action plan.

“The prompt implementation of a concrete action plan in the defence sector will strengthen our defence cooperation.

Development of ports, continuous training, capacity building, supply of equipment and maritime surveillance will be its main elements,” the Prime Minister said, asserting India will always be with Maldives.

The other agreements signed were in the fields of taxation, tourism, space research and conservation.

The Prime Minister said threat of cross border terrorism, challenge of radicalisation and overall security scenario in the Indian Ocean region were discussed and both sides agreed to step up cooperation in these areas.

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“President Yameen and I are aware of the growing dangers of cross border terrorism and radicalisation in South Asia.

Information exchanges between security agencies and training and capacity building of Maldives Police and security forces is important part of our security cooperation,” he said.

Talking about SAARC, the Maldivian President said both Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to play key role in realising the true potential of the region.

Modi said India is ready to partner Maldives in its ambitious iHaven project and UTH projects. iHaven is 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, including developing an airport, a harbour, bunkering services, real estate, shopping malls, and resorts in the atoll.

India, Modi said, is a “well-wisher and will match steps with Maldives in its journey towards progress.

“We welcome the 3rd Maldives Investment Forum that will take place in India and which will boost our trade and investment relations,” he said, calling Maldives among one of India’s closest friends.

Both sides also agreed to step up engagement in areas of disaster management, health and tourism, desides trade and investment.

The Prime Minister also hosted a working lunch for President Yameen at Hyderabad House.

The two sides signed a pact on avoidance of double taxation of income derived from international air transport and another agreement was inked on mutual assistance for exchange of information relevant to the administration and enforcement of the domestic laws concerning taxes.

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It also includes exchange of information relevant to the determination, assessment and collection of such taxes, the recovery and enforcement of tax claims, or the investigation and prosecution of tax matters.

A separate MoU proposes to undertake conservation and restoration of ancient mosques and other historical monuments in Maldives by India.

The two sides also signed a pact for coordination for operation of ‘South Asia Satellite’ and fulfilling regulatory requirements as well as obtaining international level recognition for the ‘South Asia Satellite’, being developed by India.

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