A second batch of Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives has departed, President Mohamed Muizzu has announced during a campaign rally of his ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) in Addu City.

The group included pilots and technical staff dispatched by India to operate and maintain a trio of aircraft gifted to the Maldives by the Indian government. This fleet comprised two navy helicopters and one Dornier aircraft.

President Muizzu has consistently maintained that the presence of these personnel on Maldivian soil constitutes an infringement of the nation’s sovereignty. In his 2023 presidential campaign, he pledged to expel all Indian military troops stationed in the Maldives.

“The first team has left; now, the team on the second platform has returned [to India] on 9 April,” President Muizzu stated. The remaining troops on the third platform would depart before 10 May, thereby fulfilling his pledge, he assured. The military personnel are being substituted with civilian pilots and technical staff following diplomatic discussions between the two nations.

Media reports indicate that the Indian pilots and technical staff in the second group who departed on 9 April were those stationed at Hanimaadhoo International Airport, where they crewed the Dornier aircraft. Officials have confirmed to a local media outlet that civilian pilots and technical staff have arrived in Hanimaadhoo to assume the operations of the Dornier aircraft. However, the government has yet to officially confirm their arrival and other details.

During the 2023 presidential election campaign, President Muizzu asserted that thousands of Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives. The then incumbent government, led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), refuted this claim.

Upon assuming office, the Muizzu administration conducted a comprehensive assessment of the Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives, which revealed that the actual number was 88.

This contingent includes pilots and technical staff responsible for operating two navy helicopters in Addu City and Kahdhoo Airport, Laamu Atoll, and a Dornier aircraft in Hanimaadhoo. The count also includes military doctors at the Sena Hiya Hospital, operated by the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF).

On 11 March, the MNDF disclosed that 26 Indian military personnel stationed in Addu City had returned to their home country. Subsequently, 26 civilian pilots and technical staff arrived in Addu City to assume the operations of the navy helicopter, according to the MNDF. As part of this transition, the government of India replaced the navy helicopter previously used in Addu City.

Since the inauguration of the Muizzu administration, diplomatic relations between the Maldives and India have been on a downward trajectory. This deterioration is largely attributed to President Muizzu’s anti-India stance during the presidential campaign.

The situation was further exacerbated when three deputy ministers of the Muizzu administration made derogatory remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on social media.

However, recent developments suggest a shift in President Muizzu’s approach towards India, traditionally the Maldives’ closest ally and neighbour. Despite his continued anti-India stance, the Muizzu government recently requested the Indian government increase the quota for essential commodities, including food items and construction materials. India granted the request despite the strained relations between the two nations and the Maldives’ recent pivot towards a China-centric foreign policy.