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India reassures Maldives of backing as new rep takes .....

India reassures Maldives of backing as new rep takes office - Haveeru Online, Jan 14, 2016

New Indian High Commissioner to Maldives Akilesh Mishra hands over his credentials to President Yameen at a ceremony held at the President Office in capital Male Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO/ PRESIDENT'S OFFICE

India's new representative in Maldives assured Wednesday that his country would continue to assist its island neighbour whenever required, as he assumed office.

Akilesh Mishra was earlier this month assigned as the new high commissioner to the Maldives.

During a call at the President’s Office in Male to present his credentials, Mishra told President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom that India would continue to assist Maldives whenever it was required.

At the ceremony held Wednesday afternoon, President Yameen congratulated the high commissioner on the commencement of his term and the ?high commissioner discussed ways to further strengthen the bilateral relations that exist between the two countries.

India reiterating its support to the Maldives comes days after President Yameen briefed a top diplomat from India on the political developments in the Maldives and secured the regional superpower's backing in domestic and international affairs.

Indian foreign secretary Jaishankar arrived in Maldives Monday afternoon on a one-day official visit as a special envoy of the Indian prime minister.

In a statement, the President’s Office said the president briefed the Indian foreign secretary on the latest developments in local politics. He sought India’s assistance in several areas, including domestic and international affairs, it added.

“The president gave his assurance that his government will continuously work to further improve the close bilateral relations between the Maldives and India,” the statement in local Dhivehi language read.

“The Indian foreign secretary assured the president that India will always give its fullest cooperation to the Maldives.”

The second visit by the Indian foreign secretary follows intensified efforts by both the Maldives and India to improve relations. In the latest such development, the Maldivian president had on December 8 hailed the foreign policy of its closest neighbour and ally.

In his message on this year’s SAARC Charter Day, the president said foreign policies of SAARC member states should prioritise improving relations with its neighbours. Such an approach, according to the president, is important for a peaceful region, which he said is integral to ensuring peaceful nations.

“In this regard, the Maldives welcomes [Indian] Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Neighbourhood First policy, and encourages other member states to adopt similar stances,” the message read.

The president’s comments came in light of recent efforts by the Maldives to bolster its ties, especially in investment and trade, with India as well as rival China.

China is funding several infrastructure projects across the Maldives. Delivery of the government’s vital electoral pledges, including the building of a bridge between capital Male and the airport island of Hulhule and the development of the country’s main international airport, also hinges on soft loans being considered by Beijing.

Chinese businesses, mostly state owned corporations, have recently forayed into the Maldives with investments in areas such as the Maldives’ upmarket luxury tourism industry.

The Maldives also held its second investment forum in the Chinese capital in October.

The close relations between the Maldives and China have come at the expense of its ties with neighbours, especially India, which worries that China was flexing its arms in its traditional clout of control.

Despite the recent attempts at improving ties with rival China, the Maldives has embarked on a mission to ramp up its long standing relationship with its closes neighbour, India. The recent thaw saw the visit of India’s top diploma Sushma Swaraj to the Maldives and the restarting in October of a joint commission after a 15-year hiatus.

In Male, Swaraj was told by President Yameen that the Maldives has a policy of "India First”.

Ties between the Maldives and India are on the mend after reaching its lowest point following the premature termination in 2013 of the agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR, which had been managing the country’s main international airport since 2011.

In light of the abrupt termination of the GMR agreement, New Delhi took extraordinary measures including the tightening of visa for Maldivian medical tourists and banning the sale of construction aggregate to Maldivian vendors.

The Maldives does not give a rosy outlook for Indian companies that have faced several bureaucratic and political hurdles. Most of the Indian companies doing business in the Maldives had been forced out of the country over the past five years.

The most high-profile such case relates to the subsequent eviction of GMR, which in 2010 won an international bid to manage the Maldives main international airport, by the Maldives government in 2012.

Other Indian companies including Tatva, which had won a contract in 2010 to manage the waste of capital Male, and real estate giant Tata Housing have faced many obstacles, with some leaving the Maldives entirely.

However, the Maldives now appears eager to court back Indian investors.

At talks held during Swaraj’s recent visit to the Maldives, the Maldivian side reiterated its interest in engaging with private investors in India for iHavan and Hulhulmale Youth City projects. Sectors such as tourism, fisheries, education, IT, infrastructure development, energy cooperation including renewable energy, and traditional medicine were also identified for future cooperation.

The visit by India's top diplomat came as the two neighbours prepared to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations.

On November 1, 1965, India established diplomatic relations with the Maldives, becoming the first country to do so following the latter’s independence from Britain in July.

As the two countries officially marked the golden jubilee of relations, a series of year-long activities was organised by the high commission since last November. The activities included a culinary festival, which saw cooking workshops held by visiting top Indian chefs and a master-chef style cooking competition, a Bollywood movie festival, health awareness programmes and a yoga festival.

A cultural evening was also held in September.

In August, the Maldives and India wrapped up the sixth round of a joint annual military training exercise. India also announced the completion of the first phase of a coastal radar system in the Maldives.

However, Modi’s scheduled visit to the Maldives in March was called off due to the increasing political strife in the Maldives at the time.

India, meanwhile, has publicly sided with the Maldives government over the continued imprisonment of the country’s former president Mohamed Nasheed, an issue central to the Maldives’ relationship with its international partners.

Nasheed’s lawyers are pushing for targeted sanctions on top Maldivian officials.

India, however, opposes such action.

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