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India will train Maldivian pilots to fly Dornier aircraft if Male requests to New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said on Friday. While addressing a media briefing, Jaiswal called capacity building an important component in defence and security engagement between India and Maldives.

Asked about the Maldivian Defence Minister’s recent remarks that their pilots do not know how to fly Dornier aircraft and if the issue was raised during a meeting between foreign ministers of two nations, Jaiswal stated, “Capacity building is an important component in our defence and security engagement with the Maldives. We have in the past trained their personnel on the defence side. And if we receive a request for training of pilots, if this request is made, we will be happy to take it forward.”

Days after the withdrawal of Indian soldiers, Maldives Defence Minister Ghassan Maumoon has acknowledged that the country’s defence forces are still not capable of operating the three aircraft donated by India, local media reported on Sunday.

This comes a day after Maldives Foreign Minister Moosa Zameer said 76 Indian military personnel in the island nation, were replaced by civilian personnel sent by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which manufactured the helicopter donated by the Indian government.

Maumoon, at a press conference, said that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) “still does not have soldiers capable of” operating the aircraft, Maldives-based Adhadhu reported.

Responding to a question, Ghassan said there were no Maldivian soldiers with the ability to operate the aircraft, despite some soldiers who began training to fly the Dornier and two helicopters under agreements formed by previous governments. “As it was a training that required passing various stages, our soldiers had not reached completion due to various reasons. Therefore, there aren’t any people in our force at the moment who are licensed or fully operational to fly the AHL platforms and Dornier,” Ghassan said.

However, it is pertinent to note that contrary to Ghassan’s remarks, when the current administration’s senior officials were in the opposition, they criticised the previous government and claimed that “there were capable pilots” in the MNDF, Adhadhu reported.

Maldives Foreign Minister Zameer said that the agreement to replace the Indian soldiers with civilians also included provisions for training local pilots.

Earlier on May 10, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from the Maldives and the “deputation of competent persons” to the archipelago nation.

Mohamed Muizzu-led Maldives government had formally requested India withdraw its troops from Male. The removal of Indian troops from Maldives was the main election campaign of Muizzu’s party. The relations between New Delhi and Male have been strained since Mohamed Muizzu assumed office.