Gayoom hails India's role in restoring democracy in Maldives

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Monday hailed the "positive role" neighbouring India played in the restoration of democracy in Maldives.

In an email interview with India's PTI, nearly a month after he was released from jail, Gayoom, who ruled Maldives for three decades until 2008, said the new government of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih would be "sensitive" towards New Delhi's "concerns".

Opposition coalition candidate Solih came out victorious in the September 23 presidential election, handing a shock defeat to incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and capping months of political upheaval in the tourist paradise.

Bilateral ties between the two countries had soured after Yameen in February declared state of emergency following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders convicted in widely criticised trials.

India has also been irked by Yameen's government had turned to China to realize his ambitious infrastructure development plans. Beijing has provided loans to fund several major infrastructure projects including a landmark bridge connecting the capital Male to the airport island Hulhule.

Concerns that Maldives would fall into a debt trap like Sri Lanka were further fueled after the island nation signed its first bilateral free trade agreement with China late last year.

"We value the support China has given for our development. However, we are concerned at the level of debt we have incurred in recent years, and feel this needs to be carefully reviewed and managed. I am sure that China would respect the will of the Maldivian people," Gayoom said in the e-mail interview.

"I do not see the events of the last few years having a lasting impact [on bilateral ties with India]...I do not think these bumps and turbulence would impact decades of [our] India first policy."

Describing India as the "closest and most trusted ally" of Maldives, he said it was in the interests of all of the Maldives' geographical neighbours that there is stability in the Indian Ocean region.

"I am confident that the new government will work towards achieving this. We will be sensitive towards the concerns of India as well as of other friends," he said, adding the Maldives was looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Maldives "very soon".