President Ram Nath Kovind will embark on a six-day visit starting March 11 to the Aisland nations of Madagascar and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, a region vital to India's strategic interests. Kovind will be the chief guest at the celebrations commemorating 50th year of independence of Mauritius, said Sanjay Panda, the joint secretary (Indian Ocean Region) in the Ministry of External Affairs. The visit of the president to Madagascar, from March 14-15, will also be the first ever visit by an Indian VVIP to the island nation, Neena Malhotra, joint secretary (East and Southern Africa) said. The visits assume significance as these African countries lie in the Indian Ocean, considered India's backyard and also a region that has been witnessing growing Chinese naval presence. After assuming office last year, Kovind had visited Ethiopia and Djibouti. In Mauritius, Kovind will hold talks with his counterpart Ameenah Gurib, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, other political leaders, including the leader of the opposition, in the country.
Four pacts in areas ranging from higher education to Ayurveda will be inked during the visit. Kovind will also inaugurate the World Hindi Secretariat that is coming up in Mauritius, besides laying foundation stone of an ENT hospital and also the social housing projects. The projects are being executed under the Special Economic Package of USD 353 million for Mauritius extended by India. In Madagascar, Kovind will meet his counterpart and interact with the business community. He will also hold delegation level talks with Malagasy President Hery Rajaonarimampianina during his visit. Madagascar is straddled in the Indian Ocean and along side the strategic Mozambique channel. Asked whether there will be an agreement on defence cooperation with Madagascar, Malhotra said, "We already have defence cooperation agreements with almost all Indian littoral countries. We have agreements with South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Seychelles. We are expecting to sign with other nations. Madagascar could be another country.
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