Vice-President heads to a new Maldives to deepen ties (Lead)

November 7th, 2008 - 11:43 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 7 (IANS) As Vice-President Hamid Ansari heads to the Maldives Monday, India said it looked forward to strengthening its multi-faceted ties with the Indian Ocean nation under the Indian Ocean nation’s new leadership.“As the Maldives enters a new era in constitutional reform, democracy and development, India looks forward to strengthening and deepening its relationship with the Maldives and assisting it in its various developmental efforts,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement here Friday.

Ansari will attend the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Mohamed Nasheed Tuesday and hold talks with him on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.

Ansari will also meet his counterpart Mohamed Waheed Hasan, who will also be sworn in Tuesday. The vice-president will meet President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who was defeated in the historic multi-party polls that ended three decades of his rule and brought in a new democratic regime to power.

Ansari’s visit will mark New Delhi’s first top-level contact with the new democratic dispensation in that country that comprises nearly 1,200 islands.

India enjoyed excellent bilateral relations with the Maldives for the three decades when Gayoom ruled that country - a period that saw the dramatic transformation of the idyllic island nation into a luxury holiday destination, bringing prosperity on one hand but also bringing checks on political liberties in its wake.

“It will be primarily a familiarization trip that will help India establish equations with the new democratic leadership in the Maldives,” official sources said.

The visit will also underline continuity in India’s special ties with the Maldives, a member state of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

The visit by Ansari, a former diplomat who served as India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Iran, barely a fortnight after the 47-year-old Nasheed was elected president, underlines New Delhi’s desire to build stronger ties with a strategically important country, 800 km away from India’s southern tip and where China is trying to make inroads.

The visit will build upon enormous goodwill across the spectrum in the Maldives for India. A large number of Maldives diplomats have been trained in India. And Maldivians have not forgotten India was among the first few countries to help when the 2004 tsunami struck the Indian Ocean nation.

Indians are the largest expatriate community in the Maldives with a population of 19,430 that forms an enduring human bridge between the two countries. India also provides training to the Maldives’ defence personnel and hardware for its military.

According to strategic experts, the historic change of guard in the Maldives will make it easier for New Delhi to deal with a democratic regime instead of a one-man dictatorship in the neighbourhood.

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