Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION - Moushumi Das Gupta let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

NEW DELHI: Af­ter vis­it­ing two African coun­tries in Oc­to­ber 2017, Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind will make his sec­ond for­eign trip to two In­dian Ocean na­tions, a key fo­cus area of the Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi-led gov­ern­ment, se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the de­vel­op­ment said.

The Pres­i­dent will visit Mau­ri­tius and Mada­gas­car in March, two im­por­tant coun­tries in the In­dian Ocean re­gion, in the midst of evolv­ing po­lit­i­cal cri­sis in the Mal­dives, an­other key coun­try in the re­gion.

“Kovind will be the chief guest at the event to mark 50 years of Mau­ri­tius’ In­de­pen­dence. He will un­der­take the visit in midMarch. From Mau­ri­tius he will visit Mada­gas­car,” one of the of­fi­cials said.

Pres­i­dent Kovind had made his first for­eign trip as head of state to the African con­ti­nent last Oc­to­ber.

The cen­tral gov­ern­ment aims to de­velop closer ties with the In­dian Ocean coun­tries amid China’s grow­ing prox­im­ity with the lit­toral states and In­dia’s own in­ter­est in se­cur­ing the sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tions in the In­dian Ocean.

“The choice of Pres­i­den­tial visit also re­flects the his­tor­i­cal ties with the two coun­tries with size­able In­dian ori­gin pop­u­la­tion,” said a sec­ond of­fi­cial who did not want to be quoted.

In 2015, Modi un­der­took a five­day tour of — Sey­chelles, Mau­ri­tius and Sri Lanka—three coun­tries that are lo­cated strate­gi­cally in the In­dian Ocean re­gion. Dur­ing the PM’S visit to Mau­ri­tius, the two sides signed five bi­lat­eral agree­ments and In­dia ex­tended a $500 mil­lion line of credit.

Mada­gas­car has had close mar­itime trade links with In­dia since the 18th cen­tury.

Pres­i­dent Kovind’s visit to the na­tion is ex­pected to bridge the gap in high level vis­its be­tween the two coun­tries. When min­is­ter of state for fi­nance, Santosh Ku­mar Gang­war, vis­ited Mada­gas­car in Oc­to­ber 2016, it was af­ter 21 years that an In­dian min­is­ter vis­ited the coun­try.

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