'Indian military presence must be removed before end of year'

Former President of the Maldives Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom has said Indian military personnel in the Maldives must leave the country by the end of the year. He made the statement in an interview given to Reuters.

Spearheaded by Yameen, the opposition's India Out campaign seeks to drive out Indian military personnel stationed in the Maldives. The movement has gained momentum in recent months, especially in the atolls. Both the government and Parliament are attempting to stop the campaign, although the opposition has said they would not stop the movement at any cost.

Speaking to an international media regarding the campaign for the first time, Yameen said he does not wish to have any foreign military presence in the Maldives, even if it was India, China, or the United States.

Yameen said while it is clear that the Indian military has established themselves in the Maldives, it is not something that the people of the Maldives agree with. He said it also impedes national security.

"It not only endangers our national security but also impedes our progress and development," he said.

He further stressed that Indian military officers must leave the Maldives by the end of the year.

"It's imperative that we get the Indian military out before the end of this year. We certainly don't like to play second fiddle here in our own country," he was quoted as saying.

Yameen said he wished for the Maldives to be a country with no foreign military presence and said India's actions could encourage other nations like China and the United States to build up their presence in the Indian Ocean.

When asked regarding the close ties between China and Maldives during Yameen's presidency, the former president said China was an important development partner. He said Europe or the US do not hand out money for development and that only China does that.

Seeking about his political future, Yameen said he remains undecided about contesting in the 2023 presidential election.

"I have returned. I don't think I ever left, and I don't think people left me either," he told Reuters.

Speaking to Reuters, Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi refuted Yameen's allegations. She said India's military presence in the country was limited to the operation and maintenance of three search-and-rescue and surveillance aircraft used by Maldives' defense forces and a medical team at a military hospital.

Mariya said Yameen's goal was to create enmity between India and the Maldives. While he seeks to cancel agreements with India, she noted that some of the deals were signed during his own time in power.