NEW DELHI (AP) — India on Thursday said it will replace its military personnel in Maldives with civilian technical staff who will operate three aircraft from India that provide humanitarian services.

The decision comes after new Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu demanded that the Indian military personnel be withdrawn by March 15.

At least 75 Indian military personnel are believed to be in Maldives and their known activities include transporting patients from remote islands and rescuing people at sea. India earlier gave Maldives a Dornier airplane and two helicopters.

Tensions between India and Maldives have grown since Muizzu came to power last year and adopted a pro-China stance.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry said on Jan. 2 that officials from two countries met in New Delhi and agreed that India would begin withdrawing its troops from the Maldives on March 10 and complete the process by May 10.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters on Thursday that the Indian military personnel “would be replaced by competent Indian technical persons.” He did not elaborate.

After taking power, Muizzu visited China ahead of India and said Maldives’ small size is not a license for anyone to bully the country. His comments were an apparent response to social media calls in India for tourists to boycott Maldives after three Maldives deputy ministers made derogatory posts against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The dispute began in January when Modi posted pictures on X, formerly known as Twitter, of himself strolling on the beach and snorkeling in Lakshadweep, an Indian archipelago that his government believes has untapped tourism potential.

Some in Maldives saw it as an attempt to lure tourists away from its sandy white beaches and luxury island resorts.

Muizzu suspended the deputy ministers, saying their comments did not reflect government policy. However, Muizzu after returning from China announced plans to end Maldives’ dependence on India and find alternate places for Maldivians to obtain education and health services and import staples and medicines.

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