India signs USD 50 million defence LoC agreement to boost maritime capabilities of Maldives

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Male, Feb 21 (PTI) India on Sunday reaffirmed its commitment to the Maldives' security and signed a USD 50 million defence Line of Credit agreement with the strategically vital Indian Ocean island nation to boost its maritime capabilities, as External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held in-depth talks with the country's top leaders to further cement bilateral ties.

The signing of the agreement took place after Jaishankar held talks with Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi, Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer, Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail and Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Aslam.

The USD 50 million credit line agreement for defence projects was signed between the Finance Ministry of Maldives and the Export Import Bank of India.

A Letter of Intent between Fahi Dhiriulhun Corporation and EXIM Bank was also signed towards extending a credit facility under EXIM Bank’s Buyer’s Credit scheme to support the design and construction of 2000 social housing units in Hulhumale, according to a joint statement on the two-day visit of Jaishankar.

Jaishankar held a cordial meeting with Didi and reviewed the various facets of defence and security cooperation. He told Didi that India would always be a reliable security partner for the Maldives.

After their talks, Jaishankar and Didi signed an agreement to develop, support and maintain a Maldives National Defence Force Coast Guard Harbour at Sifavaru.

The agreement will help India to assist the Government of Maldives for enhancing the capability of the country's defence forces in exercising jurisdiction and undertaking maritime surveillance of its Exclusive Economic Zone and islands, the joint statement said.

It will 'strengthen Maldivian Coast Guard capability and facilitate regional HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief) efforts,' Jaishankar tweeted.

Didi said that from time immemorial, defence cooperation has been a key element of the sisterly relationship that exists between India and the Maldives. The Coast Guard Harbour & Dockyard at Sifavaru will mark another significant milestone, she tweeted.

The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region. China, which has been expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean region, has been eying key infrastructure projects in the strategically-important island nation and step up defence ties. Jaishankar also witnessed the signing of a project execution contract for the construction of roads in Addu, the second-largest urban area in the Maldives, in terms of population.

This is the first of the eight major infrastructure projects being implemented jointly by the Maldives and India to be awarded.

Jaishankar also called on Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and reaffirmed India's fullest commitment as a comprehensive development partner of the island nation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Jaishankar on Saturday handed over 100,000 additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Maldives.

'Guided by mutual respect and trust, the Maldives-India partnership has grown even stronger during the COVID-19 pandemic,' the joint statement said.

On Saturday, Jaishankar met his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid in a warm and friendly atmosphere, reflective of the renewed dynamism over the past two years in the traditionally close relationship, it said.

They noted with appreciation that in the last two years, the leadership of President Solih and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has steered the Maldives-India partnership into a new era of high ambition and cooperative action for mutual benefit.

Given that both countries are celebrating the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, the ministers reaffirmed their commitment to further deepening and strengthening the relationship, and exploring new areas of cooperation, the joint statement said.

Shahid reiterated the deepest appreciation to India for gifting an additional 100,000 doses of vaccine to the people of Maldives, in addition to the 100,000 doses gifted to the Maldives last month.

He also thanked India for the support extended to the people and Government of Maldives, during the pandemic, especially noting the financial assistance of USD 250 million for budget support, it said.

The ministers discussed the status of implementation on the various infrastructure development projects financed through the Lines of Credit.

They also discussed progress on the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement Studies being built in Addu City. Despite COVID-19, the project has made significant progress and is likely to be inaugurated in April 2021.

They also discussed the importance of an effective multilateral system as a key factor in tackling global challenges and agreed on the need to pursue reform of the main UN bodies, including the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The Maldives reiterated its support for India's candidature for permanent membership of an expanded and reformed UN Security Council. India reiterated its support for the Maldives candidature for the Presidency of the 76th session of the General Assembly, the statement said.

Both ministers agreed to cooperate and work together on addressing global challenges such as the threat of climate change, in the lead up to the 26th session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC to be held in Glasgow, UK, net year, it said.

Underscoring the importance of defence and security cooperation, the ministers agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region, the joint statement said.

They further agreed to strengthen coordination in enhancing regional maritime security, including on combatting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross border terrorism and maintaining peace in the region to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, it said.

They also agreed to work together to convene the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism, countering violent extremism and de-radicalisation at the earliest, it said.

Shahid welcomed the offer of a new line of credit of USD 40 million for the development of sports infrastructure and noted that it will contribute in creating new sports infrastructure.

The visit of Jaishankar highlights the strong and shared commitment of both sides to strengthen the bilateral partnership that is anchored in common civilisational roots, cultural affinities, and the shared values of democracy and the rule of law, the joint statement said. PTI NSA AKJ AKJ