Foreign troops must leave Maldives, president-elect Muizzu says

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Foreign military forces cannot stay in the Maldives, president-elect Mohamed Muizzu told a rally celebrating his victory in closely watched weekend presidential elections that are expected to redraw ties with India and China.

Muizzu, who beat incumbent President Ibrahim Solih in a second-round runoff on Saturday, is backed by a coalition known to be close to China, and championed an “India Out” campaign a few years ago, against a small unit of Indian military.

“All the countries which agree to our pro-Maldives policy will be our close friends and allies,” Muizzu told supporters at Monday’s event.

“We will send back foreign soldiers in the Maldives,” he added, without naming any country.

In the past his party has viewed India’s overwhelming influence as a potential threat to sovereignty and Muizzu accused the South Asian nation of aiming to establish a permanent military presence in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

India, with traditionally close ties to Male, denies that assertion, and is helping to build a naval harbour for Maldivian forces to be trained by its military.

New Delhi will “wait and watch” Muizzu’s policies, a senior Indian government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He has to work with us, and we have to work with him,” the official added, emphasising that India was “not anti-Maldives”.

Solih, who championed an “India First” policy, continues in office until Muizzu is inaugurated on Nov. 17.

(Reporting by Mohamed Junayd, Krishn Kaushik, and Uditha Jayasinghe; Writing by Blassy Boben; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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