Antony ends Maldives visit after talks on more defence coop



Male: India and Maldives agreed to augment cooperation in defence and security to deal with common security threats as Defence Minister AK Antony held talks with the Maldivian leadership and also discussed the latest political situation in the nascent democracy.

Wrapping up his three-day visit, during which India announced a slew of measures to boost defence capabilities of this Indian ocean archipelago, Antony said today that there was further scope for improvement in bilateral ties.

On the last day of his visit, Antony called on President Mohamed Waheed and discussed with him the political and economic situation in this country and efforts to strengthen and consolidate the nascent democracy.

Waheed said the security of the Indian Ocean Region was of vital importance to both countries and they should strive to enhance cooperation in myriad ways to thwart any threats.

"President Waheed noted that there are no inhibitions on either side as each treated the other side as a close and trusted friend," a statement from the Indian defence ministry said.

"He also appreciated India's support in facilitating a way forward in the political process in Maldives," it said.

Antony's visit is the first by a senior Indian leader after the February 7 overthrow of the Mohamed Nasheed's government, that was considered close to India.

Following his ouster, Nasheed had flagged off concerns of China's increasing influence in the country.

A joint statement issued at the end of the visit said at the formal talks, both sides reviewed the status of existing bilateral defence relations including the projects being currently executed with Indian assistance.

"Noting the entwined destinies of the two countries and the commonalities in the security concerns, both the countries agreed to continue to work closely in the area of defence and security," said the statement.

Antony said India considers Maldives as a close neighbour and noted that bilateral defence relationship was growing as the two nations being close neighbours, share common security interests among others.

"Both countries have close relations with scope for improvement in all areas," Antony told PTI.

The Maldivian leadership also briefed Antony about the present domestic political and economic situation, in the aftermath of a political turmoil that threatened the stability in the country.

"It was agreed that both sides would work to step up the bilateral cooperation in all areas," said the joint statement.

Antony also invited his counterpart Col (ret) Mohamed Nazim who accepted the invitation to visit India.

Antony, had yesterday said the two countries can work together to tackle challenges like terrorism, piracy and drug trafficking to maintain peace and stability.

He had inaugurated 'Senahiya', a military hospital built with Indian assistance, and also held talks with Col Nazim.

India has also decided to station a Defence Attache here besides training Maldivian helicopter pilots and defence personnel.

The Defence Minister was accompanied by a high level delegation comprising of Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma, Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Director General Military Training Lt Gen SP Tanwar and DG AFMS Air Marshal DP Joshi.

During the 30-minute meeting, President Waheed appreciated the visit of Antony to the island nation and said it had "increased the confidence level in the relations of the two countries".

Antony also briefed Waheed about his discussions with his Maldivian counterpart Mohamed Nazim yesterday and the decisions taken to further cement the defence relationship.

"The President expressed happiness over the developments and assured full cooperation of Maldivian side in implementing the decisions," the release said.

The meeting ended with the two Defence Ministers exchanging the agreement, in the presence of the President, to station the Indian Coast Guard Advanced Light Helicopter in Maldives for a further period of two years.

During the three-day visit of the Minister, the Indian side also agreed to help in setting up a gymnasium in Male.

Antony had yesterday also laid down the foundation stone of an academy, to be built in three phases, with assistance from India, to train personnel from Maldives Coast Guard and Marine Police.

PTI