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Indian foreign secretary expected to visit Maldives in November

DIGEST-ENG-17-10-2020-Maldives

Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla is expected to visit the Maldives in November as part of an outreach to India’s key neighbours, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity on Friday.

The visit will follow his recent trips to Bangladesh and Myanmar, and the Maldives will be only the third foreign destination for Shringla amid Covid-19-related travel restrictions. This reflects the importance attached by India to its ties with the Indian Ocean archipelago, the people said.

In recent months, India has unveiled a slew of measures to assist in the recovery of the Maldives from the economic impact of the pandemic and to bolster defence and security cooperation.

The visit is currently in the planning stage and a date is expected to be finalised soon, the people said. The Maldives is usually among the foreign countries that every foreign secretary visits soon after assuming office, but Shringla, who took over in January, had to curtail his travel plans due to the pandemic.

Last month, India provided a soft loan of $250 million to the Maldives as budgetary support to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic, the latest in a string of support measures.

The financial aid was first announced during a virtual meeting between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid on August 13. At the meeting, India had also unveiled a $500-million package to help the Maldives build a connectivity project linking its capital Male with three islands.

The Maldives and India launched a cargo ferry service connecting Tuticorin and Cochin ports with Male in September with the aim of cutting costs and time taken to transport goods between the two countries.

India also provided a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft to the Maldives National Defence Force (MDNF) in September. The aircraft is expected to boost efforts to keep a closer eye on the movement of Chinese vessels in regional waters.