India has replaced some 80 soldiers in the Maldives with civilians after a demand by President Mohamed Muizzu who has pivoted the archipelago’s ties towards China, New Delhi officials said on Thursday.

The Indian troops supported two helicopters and an aircraft that were given by New Delhi and mainly used for marine surveillance, search-and-rescue and medical evacuation operations on the islands of about half a million people.

“Both sides have been working together to ensure continued operation of Indian aviation platforms,” India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said.

“Accordingly, deputation of competent Indian technical personnel has taken place.”

The announcement coincided with a visit by Maldivian Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer to India, the first visit by a senior official since Muizzu took office in November last year.

Maldivian leaders traditionally made New Delhi their first port of call after coming to office but Muizzu has courted China instead and deepened defence ties as global powers jostle for influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

At a meeting with Zameer, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that it was in both nations’ common interest to understand how best to take ties forward.

Zameer said afterwards on X that talks centred on cooperation in fields from infrastructure to capacity building.

Apart from the troops issue, the Maldives’ permission for a Chinese research vessel to dock at its port, in India’s backyard, has also caused concern in New Delhi.

India opened a new naval base near the Maldives in March to enhance surveillance in the Indian Ocean. But despite the strains, its development projects in the Maldives have in fact gained pace.

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