By Krishn Kaushik

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Wednesday opened a new naval base on its Indian Ocean island close to the Maldives, as ties with Male remain tense and New Delhi jostles anew with China for influence in the region.

INS Jatayu, the new base on Minicoy Island, on India’s Lakshadweep archipelago, had been under construction for years, and is India’s most distant base on its western coast. The navy has had a small presence on the island for decades.

The opening comes just as the Maldives pushes India to start withdrawing its nearly 80 troops who have been stationed there to provide technical and medical assistance on three aircraft given to its southern neighbour nation by India earlier.

The Maldives, which have traditionally had close ties to India, is pivoting towards Beijing since new President Mohamed Muizzu was elected in October on a promise to end the country’s pro-India stance.

India’s new base on Minicoy is around 125 kms (78 miles) from the Maldives.

The region is important for New Delhi for securing the passage of maritime traffic through the Indian Ocean, and the new base will help in its surveillance efforts in the region.

The Indian Navy said in a statement on Wednesday that the base will strengthen its “foothold in the Lakshadweep island while extending capacity building, operational reach and sustenance in the region.”

The navy also commissioned a new squadron of American MH-60R “Seahawk” choppers in Kochi, also on its western coast. The squadron, it said, will “augment our maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities”.

Male has signed a new agreement on receiving military assistance from Beijing, “fostering strong bilateral ties”, its defence ministry announced on social media platform X on Monday.

Muizzu has made an issue of the presence of the Indian troops in his country, and New Delhi has agreed to replace them after bilateral consultations.

Colonel Ahmed Mujthaba Mohamed, principal director of plans, policy and resources management for the Maldives National Defence Force, said on Wednesday that 26 Indian civilians had arrived to take over the control of aircraft from Indian military personnel.

“The plan to remove all Indian military personnel by May 10 is on track,” he said, adding that the Indian civilian operations on aircraft platforms will be under the MNDF’s command and control.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik in New Delhi, Mohamed Junayd in Male; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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