The Indian Navy is stepping up its presence in the Indian Ocean on “strategically important” islands near the Maldives, reported AFP on Sunday.

The Indian Navy is set to open a new base – INS Jatayu – near the Maldives on March 6, on the Lakshadweep island of Minicoy, just days before New Delhi starts withdrawing its troops from the country.

The new base will augment India’s “operational surveillance” of the region, according to a statement issued by the Indian Navy on Saturday.

INS Jatayu will be located about 258 kms closer to the Maldives than the Indian Navy’s existing base – INS Dweeprakshak – on the Lakhshadweep island of Karavatti, AFP reported. “Minicoy is the southernmost island of Lakshadweep which straddles the vital sea lines of communications,” the Indian Navy said.

A temporary base of the Indian Navy, known as Naval Detachment Minicoy, already exists at Minicoy near the 9 Degree Channel, a busy global shipping route, reported the Hindustan Times.

The first Indian team of civilian technical personnel had reached the Maldives on Monday to replace the Indian military personnel stationed there for operating aviation equipment, the island nation’s defence ministry said.

In January, Malé asked New Delhi to withdraw its soldiers from the island nation by March 15.

India is the only foreign power with a military presence in the Maldives. Around 70 Indian defence personnel maintain radar stations and surveillance aircraft in the archipelago. Indian warships also help patrol the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone. This collaboration is of strategic importance to New Delhi amid its geopolitical competition with China in the Indian Ocean region.

For Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, who is considered to hold a favourable stance towards China, removing the Indian military from his country was a key election promise. After preliminary negotiations in October, Muizzu asked India to withdraw its troops from the country. In December, he claimed that India had agreed to withdraw its soldiers.