India and the Maldives on Sunday discussed measures to strengthen bilateral ties and collaborate in the fields of defence, development cooperation, capacity building and health as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj held talks with the country's top leadership, including her Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid. Swaraj arrived here on Sunday on a two-day visit, the first full-fledged bilateral trip from India to the island nation after the government of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came to power in November last year.
Swaraj and Maldivian Foreign Minister Shahid reviewed progress on important bilateral issues, including implementation of agreed outcomes of President Solih's visit to India last year, External Affairs Ministry (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted. They agreed on a broad spectrum of issues for further collaboration, including development cooperation and enhancing people-to-people contact.
Solih visited India in December last year during which India announced a USD 1.4 billion financial assistance to the island nation. The two countries had also agreed to remain mindful of each other's concerns and aspirations for the stability of the Indian Ocean region and not allow their respective territories to be used for any activity inimical to their interests.
During a joint ministerial meeting with nine other Maldivian ministers, including Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi and Finance Minister Ibrahim Ameer, the two sides discussed ongoing and future cooperation across all spheres, including defence, development cooperation, capacity building, health and consular issues, the MEA spokesperson tweeted. Swaraj also called on the Speaker of the Parliament of Maldives, the People's Majlis, Qasim Ibrahim and reiterated India's commitment to supporting the country in its path of peace, development, prosperity and democracy.
She unveiled a plaque dedicating the renovated IGM Hospital to the people of Maldives in the city of Male. IGMH is the first and largest government healthcare facility in the Maldives, built with Indian assistance. Swaraj will call on President Solih on Monday.
In New Delhi, the MEA said Saturday that her visit is aimed at further strengthening the "close and friendly" relations between the two countries. "India attaches the highest importance to its relationship with the Maldives which is marked by trust, transparency, mutual understanding and sensitivity," it said.
"The ministers will review the entire gamut of bilateral relations and discuss a future programme of action," the MEA said. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and a number of senior officials are accompanying Swaraj during the trip.
Officials said it will be the first full-fledged bilateral visit at the political level from India to the Maldives after the new government assumed office. They said Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Maldives in November only to attend Solih's swearing-in ceremony and no substantive discussion had taken place then.
Sources said the Maldives was aware of Indian government's limitations due to the election code of conduct and that Swaraj's visit will be to enhance overall ties which came under strain during the presidentship of Abdulla Yameen, who was known to be close to China. Relations between India and the Maldives deteriorated after the then President Abdulla Yameen imposed emergency on February 5 last year.
India had criticised his decision and asked his government to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners. The emergency lasted for 45 days. Solih became president in November after he defeated Yameen in presidential elections.
(With inputs from agencies.)