India, Maldives to step up cooperation in defence, security

India and the Maldives on Sunday decided to ramp up cooperation in various fields.

PTI| Updated: Oct 11, 2015, 16:27 PM IST

Male: India and the Maldives on Sunday decided to ramp up cooperation in various fields including defence, security, energy and health as the two nations restarted the Joint Commission talks after a hiatus of 15 years.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is here on a two-day visit, assured the Maldives that India will always be the net security provider to the Indian Ocean archipelago.

However, she stressed that it is also important to insulate both countries from trends towards radicalisation and terrorism.

Noting that there has been an "unnaturally long hiatus" in the meeting of the Joint Commission, Swaraj said "I bring a message of 'neighbours first' from the Indian government".

Following the meeting, the two sides signed MoUs on cooperation between Foreign Service Institutes of both countries and for cooperation sports and youth affairs.

In her opening remarks of the meeting, which she co-chaired with her Maldivian counterpart Dunya Maumoon. She also recalled Prime Minister Narendra Modi's message to Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.

Swaraj said he would like to reiterate that "India attaches the highest importance to further developing and expanding its relationship with Maldives on basis of mutual trust and sensitivity to each other's interest".

She noted that a framework agreement of cooperation signed in November 2011, has empowered the joint commission further and also mandated them to discuss defence and security issues of mutual concern.

"India has always been there for Maldives. I would like to assure you that India will always be the net security provider for Maldives. This is a very privileged relationship," she said adding that this requires to be "handled carefully" on both sides.

"At this point of time, it is important also to insulate our countries from the trend towards radicalisation and terrorism sweeping across," she said.

Her remarks are significant as reports have suggested increased Islamist terror activity in the country even as over 100 people are said to have joined the war in Iraq and Syria.

Top officials from the Ministries of External Affairs, Health, Commerce, Defence and Petroleum and Natural Gas also attended the meeting.

"India and Maldives discussed cooperation in defence and security, trade, economic development partnership, connectivity, health, energy, HRD, culture and tourism," MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

On her part Maumoon also assured Maldivian support to India as a permanent member of a reformed and expanded UN Security Council. Swaraj later also met President Yameen.

Swaraj's visit here is viewed as an important one because Maldivians feel that it would pave the pave for Modi's trip to the country soon.

The Maldivian government was left disappointed after Modi skipped the country in March during his tour of Indian Ocean region.

Commenting on the controversial jailing of former president Mohammad Nasheed who is now Maldives' main opposition leader, Swarup had said last week that India hoped that a solution would be found.

"We expect this situation to be handled in accordance with laws and rules of Maldives and hope that the outcome would be seen by everybody as being fair and just. I think that is the most important thing," he said.

He hoped that a solution is found and said India was committed to peace, stability and progress in the Maldives.

A UN panel ruled last month that Nasheed's jailing was illegal and he should be freed immediately and be compensated for his arbitrary arrest and detention by the government of President Yameen, the half-brother of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed, 48, was imprisoned for 13 years in March on terror charges related to the arrest of an allegedly corrupt judge when he was still president in 2012.

He was forced to step down in February 2012 after weeks of protests led by loyalists of Gayoom.