GMR deal, visa issues to top talks with Maldives president

New Delhi, Dec 31 : The cancellation by the Maldives of the $500 million contract with India's GMR Group and visa issues would figure prominently during talks between visiting Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here.

Yameen, the half-brother of former long-time president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, arrives here Wednesday on his first official visit abroad after assuming office in November. He would be also meeting Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram during his Jan 1-4 visit here.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said in a briefing here that India is "gratified" that Yameen has chosen India for his first visit, "which indicates our robust relationship".

The cancellation in December 2012 of a deal to develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Male by India's GMR Group had caused strain in the traditionally close ties between India and the Maldives. The $500 million contract was the largest Indian FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) in the Maldives.

Yameen is from the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which was a partner in the earlier government that cancelled the GMR deal. There is hope of resolution of the GMR issue with Yameen and former president Gayoom "making positive comments" on the issue.

According to media reports, they have said the issue has not been handled well and would see how to resolve it properly, said sources.

India is keen on resumption of trade and investment ties with the Maldives and has asked the Indian Ocean nation of over 1,700 islands to provide a conducive atmosphere for business and to resolve the issues concerning Indian business, the sources said.

India also hopes to resolve during Yameen's visit the consular and visa issues that have been irritants in the bilateral relationship.

Yameen is meeting Indian business honchos over lunch Jan 2. He has been appreciative of India's "equidistant" stand in the Maldivian presidential elections, which saw the PPM leader win the Nov 16 run-off with three percent votes higher than his rival, Maldivian Democratic Party's Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president who was ousted in 2012.

India was swift to congratulate Yameen after he won the presidential run-off and said it looks forward to cooperating with him and his government. President Yameen has also said his country's relations with India are a priority.

The Maldivian government is set to go forward with an agreement with India's Tatva Group of Mumbai, which is into waste management, while the Taj Group has two resorts in the atoll nation. The State Bank of India is also doing well, the sources said.

According to sources, Yameen plans to see increase in sourcing of products from India. India and the Maldives also have close defence and security ties. India assists the Maldives in maritime surveillance, anti-piracy measures and in tackling marine pollution.

India has provided the Maldives with an advanced light helicopter (ALH).

--IANS (Posted on 31-12-2013)

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