Saturday, March 31, 2007

Post-Tsunami Violence Against Women On Rise-Report

Asian tsunami face heightened risks of violence, impoverishment and lack of privacy at relief camps in several nations.

Women who survived the 2004 Asian tsunami face heightened risks of violence, impoverishment and lack of privacy at relief camps in several nations, a report released on Saturday said.

In many places, women were more vulnerable to abuse by men after the tsunami uprooted their traditional way of life, the report by 174 organisations, including ActionAid International, said..

"They would often beat their wives after getting drunk and would force them to have sex in the camps, sometimes in front of children," said Sriyani Perera, ActionAid International's women rights coordinator for Asia.

The report covered five countries -- Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, India and Somalia -- and more than 7,000 women were interviewed.

In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu where more than 7,000 people died when the monstrous waves struck on Dec. 26 over two years ago, some women who lost their houses or livelihood had to sell their kidneys to make ends meet,

"We were shifted to a place where there was no work and no food to feed our children," a woman from Tamil Nadu was quoted as saying in the report. Her name was not given.

"I sold my kidney and got a small amount. They did not give me the promised amount. Now I am suffering with heavy abdominal pain and I can't work."

The report said women were often not consulted in the distribution of relief -- material or financial -- and men often misused funds for drinking, leading to further abuse of women.

Single and older women as well as those with disabilities were particularly vulnerable in the post-tsunami rehabilitation period.

On Dec. 26, 2004, giant waves triggered by one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded pulverised villages along Indian Ocean shores. Around 230,000 people were killed or went missing. Another 1.5 million were left homeless.

South Asian nations were severely hit by the tsunami with tens of thousands killed across Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.

The report said sex tourism was on the rise in coastal areas of tsunami-affected regions in India as hotels were being built near the shoreline.

Poor women, especially from devastated fishing communities, were particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

"The government doesn't allow fishermen to live within 500 metres (1,650 feet) of the seashore," Magline, 38, who is from a fishing community in the southern Indian state of Kerala, told Reuters.

"The coast has been leased to sand miners and hotels leading to influx of outsiders," she said. "This has affected our local culture and given rise to sex tourism."

The report has been released ahead of a summit of South Asian leaders in New Delhi from April 3-4 and its authors want the governments to pay heed to the plight of women survivors of the tsunami and provide them better protection.

Source: Reuters

FACTBOX-Hope vs reality at New Delhi's SAARC meet

Trade and terrorism are on the agenda for the 14th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in New Delhi on April 3 and 4. Here is an overview of the group and its agenda. HISTORY, AIMS: - SAARC was established in 1985 by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. - Formed to help boost economic growth and trade in one of the world's poorest regions -- home to about 1.5 billion people, tens of millions of whom live in abject poverty -- it has been flayed by critics who say it has remained a talking shop where lofty speeches are rarely translated into action.


Trade between members did not accelerate in the five years after structured economic cooperation began with the SAARC Preferential Trading Arrangement (SAPTA) in December 1995. - Intra-SAARC trade remained at 3.8 percent of the region's total trade in 2000, a 2003 International Monetary Fund report said. Recent figures put it at 5.3 percent of exports and 4.8 percent of imports.


Signed in January 2004, the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement, supposed to supersede SAPTA, finally came into force in July 2006. - Aimed at achieving zero tariffs on almost all products by 2012, SAFTA has witnessed squabbles over tariff concessions with Pakistan accusing India of violating the agreement with various Non-Tariff Barriers. - SAARC's perceived failure to take off despite many summits has been traced to mistrust and animosity between its two biggest members, India and Pakistan, whose rivalry dates back to their independence in 1947. Their uneasy ties, particularly over disputed Kashmir, still undermine greater regional cooperation.


Afghanistan formally becomes the group's eighth member at the Delhi summit. In joining, strategically located Afghanistan hopes to link its war-ravaged economy with the relatively more prosperous subcontinent to spur reconstruction and development. - China, Japan, South Korea, the United States and the European Union have observer status.


Sri Lanka's foreign minister said he would push for a regional counter-terrorism drive at the summit, after the March 27 air attack by rebel separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, on a Sri Lankan airbase this week. - Forming an economic union with a single currency by 2020 could be discussed. Sources: South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (, IMF Working Paper, Patterns of Shock and Regional Monetary Cooperation in South Asia (

Source: Reuters

Friday, March 30, 2007

Minor International makes major plans

Thai listed firm Minor International PLC announced it is stepping into the luxury residential property market with two high-end developments – one in Bangkok and the other in Koh Samui.

The development plans are part of the company’s aim to expand its hotel, food and residential businesses over the next four years. The company has earmarked Bt10 billion for its expansion plans.

The 14-unit Samui Beach Residence will be part of the company´s Four Seasons Hotel on Koh Samui, which opened February 1 at Laem Yai peninsula. One unit, worth Bt100 million, has already been sold.

The Bangkok property will be located on Ratchadamri Road, next to the company’s Four Seasons Hotel. Following the trend toward mixed-use properties, it will have 250 hotel rooms on 30 floors and 75 residential units on 20 floors. Construction has already begun, with the project scheduled for completion in 2009. Units will start at Bt25 million.

According to chief financial officer Pratana Manomaiphiboon, most of the Bt3.5 billion the company has set aside for 2007 will be used to development of the as-of-yet unnamed Ratchadamri project. Pratana, during a meeting with investors at the Stock Exchange of Thailand, said the investment will come from the company´s cash flow and the exercise of 250 million warrants by next February.

Minor offers a hotel-management service through its Anantara brand for four hotels in Hua Hin, Chiang Rai, Samui and the Maldives. The number of hotels under its joint ventures and management contracts will increase to over 30 in 2010 due to new openings in Sri Lanka, Bali, Vietnam, India, China, Dubai and the Middle East.

Last year, Minor opened three properties under different brands in the Maldives and also opened two hotels in Thailand: the Four Seasons Tented Camp and the Four Seasons Samui.

Minor´s food brands include The Pizza Company, Swensen´s, Sizzler, Dairy Queen, Burger King and its Asian fast-food chain, Le Jazz. The group will open 70 to 80 new outlets per year in Thailand, China, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Source: Property Reports

Afghanistan to join SAARC : Food bank, regional university on summit agenda

Upcoming 14th SAARC Summit being held in New Delhi on April 3-4 would ratify proposals on establishing regional food bank and a South Asian University, while a joint declaration would formalise entry of Afghanistan as the eighth member of SAARC, Foreign Ministry sources said Wednesday.

The Summit meeting agenda would also particularly consider on the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) and relaxing of visa policy between the member countries. Other major agendas include controlling terrorism and bolstering connectivity among the member states.

The member countries have already exercised and agreed on the three major issues in the ministerial and secretary level talks earlier and a meeting of the state heads would formalise them during the Summit meeting.

The proposed regional food bank would be established to meet the growing pressure on food security in the region. "The food bank will come into operation to meet the exigencies during calamities so that the SAARC member states could immediately tackle the crisis," the source said.

Once the deal is finalised, the food bank will start initially with a reserve of 241,580 tons of food grain, which would be gradually increased.

According to the proposal, India will contribute 153,200 tons of food grain while Pakistan and Bangladesh 40,000 tons each, Sri Lanka and Nepal 4,000 tons each, Maldives 200 tons and Bhutan 180 tons of food grain.

Connectivity to bolster economic ties through freer movement of goods and enhancing people-to-people contact between the regional countries will also be among the thrust areas in the next month's SAARC summit.

The three aspects of connectivity will be physical connectivity in terms of concrete infrastructural projects, economic connectivity through freer movement of goods and trade, and connectivity of ideas and people through increased people to people contact rather than a mere inter-governmental process.

For the first time, five observers from China, Japan, Korea, USA and the European Union will be attending the summit.

During the meeting, modalities are expected to be worked out in the preparatory meeting for operationalising a 'SAARC development fund' by wrapping up the proposed 100 million dollars fund for poverty alleviation in SAARC countries and South Asia development fund.

Under the proposed telemedicine network project the hospitals in SAARC countries would be connected to the super-speciality hospitals in India.

Source: The Rising Nepal

Big powers' presence to make 14th Saarc summit a landmark event

The two-day 14th Saarc Summit, which kicks off in New Delhi Tuesday, is expected to be a "landmark" event seeing the inclusion of Afghanistan as new member in the regional grouping and the presence of the US, EU, China, Japan and South Korea as observers, first time in its 22-year history.

Officials said the presence of the five major economies from outside the region would extend the appeal of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) to the larger international community as it enhances their interest in the functioning of the regional body.

There would be some power play as the super economic powers are coming in as observers, but the officials did not rule out the positive impact it would have on the region.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister Song Min-soon, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher and the EU by its New Delhi-based envoy will represent their countries at the summit.

Each of the observers, who would be attending a Saarc summit for the first time, would be allowed to deliver a four-minute speech in the presence of the heads of state or government at the inaugural function on Tuesday.

Sources said a number of observer countries are likely to play a more proactive role in economically engaging the region and may put pressure on the Saarc for more competition and integration.

Bangladesh has welcomed the external powers in Saarc and the five major countries got the observer status and Afghanistan as new member under the chair of Bangladesh in the 13th Saarc Summit in Dhaka.

Foreign ministry officials said major countries and economic powers have shown their interest to be associated with the South Asian region and it is also a fact that Saarc would benefit from these external linkages.

They said the Saarc member countries would call for a collective fight against terrorism and push for greater economic integration and connectivity in South Asia. There will be special focus on the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta).

The focus would also be on making the grouping a more efficient organisation and move it towards implementing some of the crucial regional projects that have been under discussion for long.

The dream of a South Asian University (SAU) would move a step closer to reality at the summit when leaders will discuss the details of the project to make the proposed university--a large part of which will be based in India.

An inter-governmental agreement would be signed first to form the university before the details are worked out. The SAU is expected to be established in the Indian capital New Delhi.

The decision to have the first SAU in India was taken at a meeting of the university regulatory bodies of the Saarc countries and would now be ratified by the ministerial meeting on April 2.

Guhar Rizvi, a Bangladeshi national of Harvard University, prepared the concept note of SAU. The proposed SAU would witness free flow of students as well as faculty from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Sources say it would take another two to three years before SAU becomes a reality. The SAU would be a modern university and be developed as a centre of excellence on the lines of American Ivy League universities.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proposed the establishment of SAU during the 13th Saarc Summit in Dhaka in 2005 with the objective to provide world-class facilities and professional faculty to students and researchers drawn from every Saarc country.

Other important intra-regional projects that would be discussed include Saarc Development Fund, Regional Telemedicine Network and Regional Food Bank.

Promoting greater connectivity--physical, economic and people to people--in the region would be the key theme of the summit.

According to an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the 14th Saarc Summit will adopt a declaration establishing the Saarc Food Bank and the SAU.

Before the Saarc Summit on April 3-4, the meeting of the Saarc Council of Ministers will be held on April 2, the meeting of the Foreign Secretary level Standing Committee tomorrow and April 1 and the meeting of the Program Committee today.

Source: The Daily Star

Letter to SAARC Leaders In Anticipation of Summit In New Delhi

Human Rights Watch released today a letter to the leaders of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives urging them to make the promotion and protection of human rights a priority for the SAARC summit meeting on April 3-4 in New Delhi. March 29, 2007Dear SAARC Government Leaders:As the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meet in New Delhi on April 3 and 4, 2007, the discussions will inevitably focus upon economics and regional security. At SAARC meetings, human rights problems in each member country have usually been treated as an internal matter. However, it takes only a quick survey of the region to see that there are many human rights issues that would benefit from mutual engagement and agreement. Apart from other serious human rights problems, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are also dealing with situations related to armed conflicts and insurgencies. Nepal, with its numerous human rights problems, has only just emerged from a violent conflict that claimed over 13,000 lives, and violence continues in the south. Bangladesh has witnessed increased militancy and the caretaker government has detained tens of thousands, often ignoring basic due process, in its efforts to combat corruption and crime. Bhutan continues to discriminate against citizens of Nepali origin. In the Maldives, there are serious curbs on political freedom.

In the Maldives, citizens continue to face restrictions on political freedom. Security forces have been implicated in torture and arbitrary detention, among other abuses. There are severe limitations upon the rights to freedom of the press, assembly, association, and religion. Unequal treatment of women continues, as do restrictions on workers' rights. [Read More]


Leaders of Sri Lanka, Pak, Afghanistan to get extra security during SAARC summit

Leaders of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan, three of the world's most volatile countries, will get extra security during the 14th SAARC summit here from April 3.

"We have decided to tighten security for participants of these countries because of the threat perceptions. Their movements will be closely choreographed," said a senior security official overseeing arrangements, reported here The Times of India.

The summit is expected to see the participation of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and new member Afghanistan.

Security will be the tightest for Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz of Pakistan and Presidents Mahinda Rajapakse of Sri Lanka and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

While militants including the Taliban and Al Qaeda are active both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Tamil Tigers have dramatically stepped up their campaign against the Sri Lankan state.

Routes from hotels to Vigyan Bhavan, where the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit will take place, will be sanitized and entry of visitors to the hotels will be strictly monitored.

Separate communication networks have been set up in the four hotels where the delegates will stay and they will be connected to the Delhi Police headquarters. No other guest will be allowed to stay on floors occupied by the delegates.

"This is to keep an eye on even the smallest movement inside the hotel premises," said a police officer.

Elite commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) will assist Delhi Police in carrying out anti-sabotage checks before the arrival of the eight heads of government and state.

Quick reaction teams have also been positioned at hotels and the summit venue to meet any exigency.

The forested ridge area behind the Maurya Sheraton hotel will be barbed and added patrolling has been ordered.

"We will also deploy excess staff at all transit points and security drills would be conducted every day before the arrival of the VIPs," the officer said.

Close circuit television cameras will be put up at all vantage points.

In this year's summit, the US, China, Japan, the European Union and South Korea have been invited for the first time as observers.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, and South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister, Song Min-soon, will represent their countries.

The US is likely to be represented by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher and the EU by its New Delhi-based envoy. Observers have been invited to the open plenary and closing meetings.

Source: Islamic Republic New Agency

Goals Of SAFTA : Economic Liberalisation

By Shankar Acharya
Indeed, today is the world of economic liberalisation and globalisation. Trade is, thus, the most important and powerful engine of economic development. Poverty alleviation, accelerated economic co-operation, social sector development, tourism, and people-to-people contact are some of the core areas of regional economic integration, which can bring prosperity to the people and nations of the region.

SAFTA is set to bring the aforesaid economic activities among the member states in the future. The contracting states, except Nepal, had agreed to reduce tariffs under the trade liberalisation programme (TLP) on July 1, 2006. Nepal did so a month later on August 1. Tariff reduction under the first phase of SAFTA is 20% by all non-LDC members, and will be 30% by the LDC members within two years of the TLP.

SAFTA came into existence with the aim of reducing tariffs for intra-regional trade among the seven SAARC members. India and Pakistan are to implement it by 2013, Sri Lanka by 2014, and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal by 2015. The tariff reduction until the December 31, 2015 would be 0-5% by all the contracting states. But the member states have yet to notify of the tariff reduction.
It is now time to review the implementation of SAFTA. The Framework Agreement of SAFTA has indicated that the SAFTA Committee of Experts shall meet at least once every six months or more often as and when considered necessary by the contracting states.

Presently, SAFTA has only seven members, including three Non-Least Developed Contracting States (Non-LDCs) and four Least Developed Contracting States (LDCs). But, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will become a new member of SAARC and SAFTA Agreement also. Hence, the committee of experts had discussed about its membership and obligations to implement the SAFTA within a time bound framework.

Para-tariff and Non-tariff measures are the most important factors hindering trade among the member states. Thus, the member states have notified that type of barriers through the SAARC Secretariat to each of the contracting parties. The successful implementation of SAFTA will depend on removing the para-tariff measures (PTMs) and non-tariff measures (NTMs) imposed by the member states.

The contracting states have to be liberal with each other in sharing the benefits equally and reducing the non-tariff measures/barriers. In the meantime, the lists of measures taken by the member states have been seen at the larger areas. It is being played the inverse situation on the free trade area.

So, the meeting was near the compromise, and it would be better and fruitful, if the member states focused on timely removal of these trade barriers by all member countries. Further, the meeting had been productive, because the member states agreed to provide the information relating to the NTMs and PTMs being currently applied by them on their imports.

The sensitive list is a main provision in the SAFTA agreement. It is a means of restricting products from other member countries from entering one's country through tariffs. The issue of sensitive list saw heated among the contracting parties during the meetings of the Committee of Experts (CoE). In the SAFTA sensitive list, member states include potential export items such as agriculture products, tea, ghee, diary products and handicrafts.

The Agreement provides for periodic reviews of the Sensitive Lists. In order to protect relevant domestic industries, it has also been agreed that the non-LDC members may have two lists- one for the non LDCs and the other for the LDCs. India's sensitive list for the LDCs has 763 items, while it has kept 884 items for the non-LDCs.

Nepal's final indicative list for the non-LDCs has 1,335 items while the list for LDCs has 1,299 items. Bangladesh has kept 1,254 items in its sensitive list for the non-LDCs and 1,249 items for the LDCs.

Similarly Pakistan has kept a single list of 1,183 items for both the non-LDCs and LDCs. Sri Lanka has kept 1,065 items in its single sensitive list. and Bhutan's single sensitive list contains 167 items. The Maldives has put 671 items in its sensitive list for all. Indeed, we are moving the free market regime to obtain the benefits and to increase the intra-regional trade volume within the region. So, we have to more liberal and with the help of reduced sensitive items and we should put more products in the open market baskets. It is being observed that the sensitive list shall be reviewed in the forthcoming meeting. Furthermore, this meeting had discussed quantitative restriction (QR) under Article 7(5) of SAFTA Agreement.

SAFTA Agreement has mentioned a separate Article on working procedure about the dispute settlement mechanism for smooth operation of SAFTA. The meeting drew the attention of the delegation of all members viewing on establishment of a panel of specialists under Article 20(8) of the SAFTA Agreement.

Currently, SAFTA Agreement has covered only Trade in Goods among the member states. Trade on services is the emerging issue in the South Asian Trade. Therefore, the meeting has discussed and gave a fertile attention for study on incorporating Trade in Services in SAFTA Agreement.

SAARC Regional Multimodal Transport Study (SMRTs), with funding from Asian Development Bank has been completed. The Second Ministerial Council Meeting considered the report of the second meeting of the SAFTA COEs. In addition, It had also discussed the status of SMRTs report.

India and Pakistan are the biggest player of the SAARC nations. But, they have a great unsolved political issue that is hindering several economic sectors of both countries. Formal trade between the two countries is very low, but informal trade is very high due to the political aspect. Pakistan has ratified the SAFTA Agreement, but it has mentioned 'Pakistan does not like to give the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment to India' only. The trade liberalization process under SAFTA mostly depends on Indian interest because SAARC regional imports are dominated mostly by exports from India, which accounts for nearly 90 per cent of its regional trade. While the region absorbs five per cent of India's total exports, only one per cent of India's imports come from the region.
Finally, SAFTA has been running since last year. The implementation of SAFTA is a crucial issue of the region. In the intra-regional trade among the countries is only 4 percent. So SAFTA provides tremendous opportunity to boost trade among the member states.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) organized the Second SAFTA Committee of Experts (COEs) and the Second Ministerial Council (MC) meeting on 24-26, February 2007 in Kathmandu. These meetings had discussed the various issues including Non-tariff, para-tariff barriers and Non-compliance of SAFTA Agreement by Pakistan. The heads of the Indian and the Pakistan delegation have agreed to build a positive consensus to hold a bilateral meeting between the two countries before the next SAFTA COEs. This compromise position had created harmony at the meeting. It will create a congenial environment amongst all members for the successful implementation of SAFTA, because the success of SAARC will depend on the effective achievement of SAFTA.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Kiko's House: Hidely Ho, Maldives!

Kiko's House: Hidely Ho, Maldives!

Lost Or Found Please Do not Return!!!: Tolerance!!! Maldives and Acceptance!!!

Lost Or Found Please Do not Return!!!: Tolerance!!! Maldives and Acceptance!!!

Privacy and Luxury in Paradise; Mark Atkinson Takes Us On a Trip to the Idyllic Kurumba Resort in the Maldives

Think of white powder-sand beaches lined with coconut palms and a panoramic view of the crystal clear ocean as far as the eye can see, at one of the few locations that remain unspoilt by man.

Such a place is Kurumba -- an exclusive resort in the Maldives just a ten-minute boat ride from North Male Atoll. Kurumba is the ultimate in relaxation and seclusion, while providing an unlimited choice of recreational activities.

The resort consists of 180 fully air conditioned bungalows and villas, tastefully furnished in rich natural colours, with polished wooden floors, antique-style wooden furniture and sandstone-tiled bathrooms. All rooms are equipped with a mini bar, tea and coffee making facilities, satellite TV and a high-speed Internet connection.

Private Villa -- The lap of luxury

For the ultimate in space, luxury and privacy, book yourself one of the Private Villas. After a restful night in your king size four-poster bed, throw open the French windows and walk out onto your private courtyard veranda. If you're in a particularly al fresco mood, have a change from the marble bathtub and glass-walled shower, and invigorate yourself under the 'rain shower' with its traditional outside thatched awning. While this provides a wonderful sense of space and freedom, you can be safe in the knowledge that it is also completely private and secluded for those that want their own little hideaway. Or you might prefer a dip in your own personal Jacuzzi, once again in complete privacy.

Those with a penchant for the sandy beach and gentle lapping of the waves can look out from their veranda just steps away from the ocean. Alternatively, those with a passion for flora and fauna have the choice of a magnificent view onto lush gardens. Either way, you are surrounded by paradise. It is indeed your Private Villa.

Facilities and dining

While you get away from it all, you can still rest assured that every amenity is at hand, with 24-hour airport transfers and reception, airline ticketing service, laundry and dry cleaning, baby sitting service, foreign currency exchange, sportswear and gift shop, international newspapers, and a doctor on call around the clock. And for those who need to stay in touch, conference facilities and a fully equipped business centre.

The ambiance caters for a range of different moods and tastes, from a secluded romantic dinner on the beach to an evening of live music where you can dance the night away.

Guests at Kurumba are spoilt for choice. Enjoy a seafood feast at Ocean Grill, capture the romance of Italy at Golden Cowrie, or the finest in Chinese cuisine at Ming Court. Have a pizza by the poolside at Pizza Piazza, enjoy the succulent Indian dishes at Kurumba Mahal, or a variety of table d'hote menus and themed buffets at Vihamana Restaurant. For Arabic Mezze, Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisine, visit Al Qasr, or Hamakaze for Japanese Teppen-Yaki.

The Neptune Coffee Shop provides mini meals throughout the day and in-room dining is available 24 hours. Whatever your choice, the quality and renowned Maldivian hospitality are never compromised.

Leisure activities

The Maldives is one of the natural wonders of the world. An archipelago of 26 coral atolls, it is a tropical paradise of coral ecosystems and lagoons supporting a huge variety of marine life for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts. With water breakers protecting the lagoon from the waves and average depths of 1-11/2 metres, it provides an excellent and safe environment for the kids to snorkel.

Or how about a trip on a glass-bottomed boat, a nighttime or early morning fishing trip on a dhoni -- traditional Maldivian boat, or the vast choice of water sports activities available?

For those who prefer terra firma there is tennis, volleyball, table tennis and a fully equipped gymnasium. Then, how about a laze around the pool or a visit to the spa?

Kurumba also offers a wide range of excursions, including a visit to a local fishing village, a barbeque on an uninhabited island, a romantic sunset cruise, or a Male shopping tour to see the traditional culture and craftsmanship of these unique atolls.

Full information about the various packages, choices of accommodation and facilities can be obtained from Those looking for the ultimate in relaxation and recreation in idyllic surroundings need look no further. Come and experience Kurumba, Maldives, in the luxury of your own private villa.

Source: Prime Newswire

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Support For Iranian SAARC Membership

Iran's request to join the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has gained support from India, the Indo-Asian News Service reported March 27, citing a senior Indian official. The official said it is unclear if other member countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, would support SAARC membership for Iran. The issue will be addressed during the SAARC summit in New Delhi from April 3-4.

Source: Stratfor

‘Babymoon’ is part of new trend for holiday companies

Expectant couples, grandparents and unmarried partners taking the equivalent of a honeymoon are changing the shape of overseas travel.

The three tourists types emerged in a holiday trends survey which found that package holidays are no longer the preserve of families and couples.

"Babymooners" is the name in the survey for couples expecting their first child who want a last holiday as a couple before parenting kicks in, according to the travel firm Thomas Cook. Typically, they will have travelled extensively and miss the days when they could tour the globe with only a backpack and guide book.

Short breaks in the sun are increasingly being booked by couples who have forgone marriage but see no reason to deny themselves the fun of a honeymoon. These "phoneymooners" typically go to places such as the Maldives, Mexico or Sri Lanka, on a romantic trip of a lifetime with an exotic backdrop more usually associated with post-nuptial celebrations.

Thomas Cook also reported bookings from older people with their grandchildren leaving the mums and dads at home to enjoy time without the kids.

This group was one of the most lucrative, as they have typically paid off their mortgages, leaving more money to spend on holidays, and they tended to travel during school holidays, when the cost of a trip abroad goes up, Thomas Cook said.

The report, published yesterday, also says that tourists are more likely to be influenced in their choice of holiday by weather and television programmes than by terrorism.

It drew on a recent survey by Mintel which showed that 67% of British adults would not be deterred from visiting a country because it had suffered a terrorist attack and that 49% said that fear of terrorism was less of a factor in holiday planning than five years ago.

Cook found that the weather in Britain was a major factor in determining whether people go abroad or stay at home. It blamed the tough year for the tourism industry in 2006 partly on the UK's blazing summer.

Holiday choices are increasingly being made in front of the TV rather than with a travel brochure, the report found. Programmes such as Big Cat Diary on BBC1 had led to a rush of bookings for African safari holidays while BBC2's Egyptian Journeys meant more holidays in Egypt.

Source: The Herald

Saarc summit to focus on Safta, visa policy

ISLAMABAD: The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summit meeting agenda would particularly focus on the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta) and softening of visa policy between the member countries would also be considered.

“A meeting of the programming committee of the Saarc is convened in New Delhi on March 29 to prepare agenda for the summit meeting,” an official told The News here Monday. “A Pakistani delegation led by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Director-General in the Foreign Office, would reach New Delhi on March 29,” he added.

The official said that Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, who would accompany President Gen Pervez Musharraf to Riyadh on March 27, would return on March 29 and would leave for New Delhi on March 31 along with Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan.

He said that arrangements have been finalised for the Saarc summit meeting in New Delhi from March 31 to April 4. According to the official, the foreign minister would lead the Pakistani delegation at the Saarc Council of Ministers Conference. He would hold meeting with Adviser to the Bangladesh President on Foreign Affairs Iftikhar Chaudhry. Kasuri would discuss the fourth round of composite dialogue with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee.

“Kasuri will also hold meetings with the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan during his stay in New Delhi,” he added. The official said that the Saarc summit meeting would accord approval to the agenda prepared by the Council of Ministers and would issue the joint communiquÈ.

He said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz would hold meetings with Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and leaders of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan to discuss the ways and means to strengthen bilateral relations.

“During retreat, the leaders of the Saarc countries will hold informal meetings and will extend invitations to each other for visit to their respective countries.” The official said that India would make efforts to raise the non-implementation of the Safta at the Programming Committee and Council of Ministers meetings. He said that Afghanistan, which would attend the Saarc summit for the first time as a member of the association, would fully support the Indian stance on implementation of Safta.


CLTA to serve Commonwealth cause

Chandigarh, Fourteen aspiring tennis players from across the Commonwealth will spend the next five years working on improving their game at the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA).

Two young players each from Bangladesh, Brunei, Maldives, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore and Sri Lanka will receive coaching at the CLTA courts and also do their schooling here.

Six of them - Maria Raidha, (Maldives), Tausif Amin Khan (Bangladesh), Aiman Mohammed (Brunei), Harsha de Silva (Sri Lanka), Zian Abdul Rashid (Maldives) and Madushani Rajendra (Sri Lanka) - are already here and have started attending St Stephen's School, Sector 45. The rest will arrive over the year.

"The facilities we have here are very good and it was felt that players from outside India should be given a chance to avail of them," said Wing Commander Surjit Singh (retd), general manager, CLTA. The boarding, lodging and training expenses of the players are being taken care of by the Commonwealth Youth Programme Asia Centre (CYPAC) and the CLTA, he said.

The programme was originally suggested by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Donald C McKinnon. It was taken forward by RK Mishra, Regional Director, CYPAC, Chandigarh and Rajan Kashyap, chairman, CLTA.

CLTA Director Coaching Gajendra Singh, sees great potential in the players who have arrived so far. He also sees this as a good experience for players here.

"It will be good exposure for players from Chandigarh to interact with these youngsters. And seeing how serious they are about their tennis should also be a motivating factor for the local players," he said.

While the players have an initial contract of five years, this can be extended further if they so desire. "We wanted to implement this programme on a long term basis. Just having them here for a year or so would not have served the purpose," he added.

For the young players, it is a godsend. Aishath Adam, the mother of 13-year-old Zian, who was the under-12 champion in Maldives, said, "Zian is very serious about tennis. But the facilities in Maldives are so poor that he had almost stopped playing."

Her 19-year-old daughter, Zeina, had also given up playing tennis, she said. "Thank god, at least my son has got this opportunity."

The parents of Madushani, Sri Lanka's under-13 No 2 are equally happy. "The conditions in our country are just not conducive for proper training. There is only one facility for tennis in Batticaloa, where we live. Sometimes, going for practice there can be very dangerous, "said her father.

Brunei's Aiman, meanwhile, already sees the improvement in his game. "My footwork is better. And I am more consistent now. "And while he may miss his family, he knows that being here is something he has to do for his future.

Source: Express India

China to attend SAARC summit

Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will attend the 14th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) from April 3 to 4 in New Delhi.

Li Zhaoxing will head a delegation to attend the meeting at the invitation of the Indian government, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang Tuesday.

This was the first time for Chinese delegation to attend the SAARC summit after China became an observer state, he said.

Founded in 1985, the SAARC includes Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan. China, Japan, North Korea, the US and the European Union are observers of the organisation.

Source: Malaysia Sun

Play for seven, pay for six at Club Med

Club Med has announced a deal that will let lovers of holidays stay for seven nights but only pay for six.

Holidaymakers booking their holiday to any of the five Club Med Asia resorts in April will be able to take advantage of this excellent offer. The offer is valid for stays at Club Med villages located in Nusa Dua Bali, Ria Bintan, Phuket, Cherating Beach Malaysia and Kani Maldives.

Club Med have villages to suit any want, any need and any traveller so it will not be hard to find a Club Med Village to suit your client.

The packages start from AUD$1,902 per adult and the cost includes return economy airfares, superior twin share accommodation, three daily gourmet meals, all-day bar and snacking, airline taxes and transfers.

All bookings must be made by April 31 for travel to be completed before October 31. Conditions apply so for more information, call Club Med direct on 1300 722 481 or visit their website at


New Delhi to have first SAARC University

NEW DELHI: The first South Asian University (SAU) is to be established in the Indian capital New Delhi.

The decision to have the first SAU in India was taken at a meeting of the university regulatory bodies of the SAARC countries and would now be ratified by the ministerial meeting beginning early April.

The concept note was prepared by Guhar Rizvi, a Bangladeshi national, of Harvard University.

The proposed SAU would witness free flow of students as well as faculty from Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.

Sources say it would take another two-three years before SAU becomes a reality.

The sources said SAU would be a modern university and be developed as a centre of excellence on the lines of American Ivy League universities.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in 2005 proposed that SAU would provide world-class facilities and professional faculty to students and researchers drawn from every SAARC countries.

Once the ministerial ratification takes place, a steering committee would work out the finer details of the proposed SAU.

A consensus on various courses to be taught also needs to be evolved.


LCCI stresses need to increase exports

LAHORE: Pakistan needs to exploit all the avenues to boost its exports and the role of foreign diplomats has always been of prime importance in this regard. The diplomats can pave way for foreign investments by portraying the economic potentials of any country to the outer world.

LCCI President Shahid Hassan Sheikh expressed these views while addressing a 36-member delegation of foreign trainee diplomats here at Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday. LCCI Senior Vice President Yaqoob Tahir Izhar, and Vice President Mubasher Sheikh also spoke on the occasion.

Trainee diplomats from Botswana, Congo, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Niger, South Africa, Malaysia, Brunei, Maldives, Yemen, Iraq, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan asked a number of questions ranging from Pakistan's economy to Chambers to Chambers relations.

LCCI President Shahid Hassan Sheikh said that there is a dire need to identify tradable items, which leave a lot of room for product/market diversification. The basics for such exercises stem in the exchange of information between the diplomatic missions and the chambers. He said that Pakistani products such as textiles, rice, leather products, sports goods, carpets, fruits & vegetables are available abundance. The Afro-Asian countries should consider Pakistani products, their quality and prices before placing demand for the import of these products with other countries.

The LCCI President was of the view that Africa remains an unexplored territory from Pakistan's standpoint as 3.88 percent of Pakistan's international trade is taking place with Africa. Tea remains to be the major items of Pakistan's import from Africa besides copper, leather, chemicals and aluminum. Likewise cotton and textile products, pharmaceuticals, surgical instruments and sports goods are the major items of export from Pakistan to Africa.

He said that Pakistan has a little trade with Central Asian Republics. It was only $48.1 million in 2005. There is a need to forge unity and make ECO an effective organization like European Union and ASEAN.

Source: Daily Times

About two-thirds of world's largest cities in endangered coastal low-elevation zones, study says

LONDON (AP) -- For the first time, a scientific study has identified the world's low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to global warming and sea-level rise, and urged major cities from New York to Tokyo to wake up to the risk of being swamped by flooding and intense storms if nothing is done.

In all, 634 million people live within such areas -- defined as less than 10 meters (33 feet) above sea level -- and that number is growing, said the study released Wednesday.

Of the more than 180 countries with populations in the low-elevation coastal zone, about 70 percent have urban areas of more than 5 million people that extend into it, including Tokyo; New York; Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Asia is particularly vulnerable and in general poorer nations are most at risk, the peer-reviewed scientific study said.

The study in the journal Environment and Urbanization doesn't say exactly what should be done, but it warns that it won't be cheap and it may involve moving lots of people and building protective engineering structures. And, it adds, countries should consider halting or reducing population growth there.

"Migration away from the zone at risk will be necessary but costly and hard to implement, so coastal settlements will also need to be modified to protect residents," said study co-author Gordon McGranahan of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

In a separate matter, the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change next week is expected to alert the world that coastlines already are showing the impact of sea-level rise and global warming and that it's expected to worsen. The IPCC -- which will issue a report on how climate change will effect human health, cities, agriculture, industry and different species -- is expected to say that about 100 million people each year could be flooded by rising seas by 2080.

"As the effects of climate change become increasingly clear, the location of the coastal settlements most at risk should also become evident," said the article by McGranahan, Deborah Balk of the City University of New York and Bridget Anderson of Columbia University.

"Unfortunately, by this time, most of the easier options for shifting settlement patterns, and modifying them so that they are better adapted to the risks of climate change, will have been foreclosed," the study said.

In February, the IPCC warned of sea-level rises of 18-58 centimeters (7-23 inches) by the end of the century, making coastal populations more vulnerable to flooding and more intense storms such as typhoons and hurricanes.

Some scientists also have said a far faster sea-level rise -- more than a meter (3.3 feet) per century -- could result from accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet.

The new study said about 75 percent of all people living in vulnerable low-lying areas around the world are in Asia, and that at-risk poor nations such as Bangladesh and small island states like the Maldives should receive help dealing with the problem from rich Western countries, which released many of the world's greenhouse gases after industrializing.

Between 1994 and 2004, about one-third of the world's 1,562 flood disasters occurred in Asia, with half of the total 120,000 people killed living in that region, the study said.

Around the world, human settlement has long been drawn to coastal areas, with people often preferring to live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of coasts and near major rivers. Today's threatened low-lying areas now contain about 2 percent of the world's land and 10 percent of its population, the report said.

Many such areas have long been vulnerable to natural disasters such as flooding and tropical storms, but climate change is likely to increase that risk, and governments will need a long lead time to respond effectively to the problem, the study said.

But such actions may not be easy.

"Migration away from lowest elevation coastal zones will be important, but can be costly and difficult to implement without causing severe disruptions," the study said. Still, it said, "Relatively small shifts in settlement location, out of a coastal plain onto more elevated ground, can make a major difference."

That is especially true in China, a country with an export-oriented economy that has created special economic zones in coastal locations.

Fast economic growth has been associated with very rapid coastward migration, with the population in low-lying areas growing at almost twice the national population growth rate between 1990 and 2000, the study said.

"Unless something is done, there is the possibility that, as well as the people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, China's economic success will be placed at risk," it said.

The study ranked the vulnerability of the world's countries in several different ways.

The five with the largest total population living in threatened coastal areas are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia.

A draft copy of the upcoming IPCC report, obtained by The Associated Press, said the costs and consequences of flooding are far higher in developing countries, compared with industrial nations. The report said for every person displaced by flooding in an industrial nation, 30 will be displaced in a developing country and 12 times more land is likely to be flooded in poorer countries than richer ones.

When nations are ranked by the largest total land areas in the zone, the leaders are Russia, Canada, the United States, China and Indonesia.

The draft copy of the upcoming IPCC report said in North America, the two biggest cities, Los Angeles and New York, are at risk of a combination of sea-level rise and storms with waters rising "up to several meters deep." By 2090, under a worst-case scenario, megafloods that normally would hit North America once every 100 years "could occur as frequently as every 3-4 years."

The five nations with the largest share of their land in the zone are the Bahamas, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, French Polynesia and Gambia.

Source: Asia One

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Travel warning issued

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is warning Australians of the danger of travelling to Sri Lanka after Tamil rebels forced the closure of the island's main international airport.

A departmental advisory issued yesterday said flights may be diverted to The Maldives and India.

"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sri Lanka at this time because of ongoing civil unrest, the volatile security situation and the very high risk of terrorist attacks," the advisory said.

"Attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Sri Lanka.

"Australians could inadvertently become victims of violence directed at others, in particular Sri Lankan government and military targets."

Source: AAP

She cries for days, but quits job to do more

WHEN Miss Frieda Chan returned from a week-long trip to Sri Lanka two years ago, she checked herself into a chalet on Sentosa - alone.

There, she cried for three days.

The 31-year-old is a social worker.

She was so moved by the stories of loss and grief she had heard from the victims of the tsunami disaster that she needed some time to get a grip on her emotions.

Miss Chan said: 'During the trip, I held everything in because I was there to help. I couldn't afford to break down.

'But when I came home, all the stories just hit me.'

Miss Chan, who has a social work degree from the National University of Singapore, was in Sri Lanka in early 2005 as a volunteer. She trained the locals to counsel victims of trauma.


One story that remained etched in her memory was that of a woman who had just given birth seconds before the tsunami struck.

She recalled: 'Medical workers who attended the training recounted how they just grabbed the newborn baby and ran for their lives.

'The woman, who was undergoing a Caesarean section, had not even been stitched up when the tsunami hit.

'The medical workers had no choice but to leave her lying in the surgical theatre, still bleeding, to die. There was nothing they could do to save her.'

The tsunami, which hit the shores of Sri Lanka, parts of Thailand, Indonesia and the Maldives on 26 Dec 2004, claimed about 200,000 lives.

Miss Chan could not forget her experience in Sri Lanka. And last July, determined to do more for tsunami victims, she quit her full-time job with a private youth organisation, where she was paid $2,100 a month.

At that time, she had already set up a voluntary welfare organisation called Life Community Development (LCD), which is aimed at getting Singaporeans involved in volunteer work.


She does not draw a salary from LCD, which is now a registered charity.

She said: 'Some organisations just give fish to the needy. Others teach them to fish. My hope in setting up LCD was not just to teach them to fish, but to teach them to teach others to fish.'

When LCD was first started in late 2004, MissChan spent her Saturdays volunteering at a local school, trying to work with disinterested and at-risk youths to get them to care for others and make themselves useful.

But what started as a local voluntary outreach project eventually went beyond Singapore's shores when Miss Chan's network of friends and volunteers started coming back with stories about their experiences in tsunami-hit countries.

'One of my volunteers was doing extensive work in various countries like Aceh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

'On each of her recce trips, she would come up with ideas on how we could step in to help.'

Early last year, after several recce trips, MissChan and her group of 20 volunteers decided they had the resources to match the needs of the victims in the Maldives.

The organisation then approached the Singapore Red Cross, which was administering the Tidal Waves Asia Fund, to finance their proposed projects.

They spent $31,000 to install water tanks for 136 households in the Maldives.

Since then, Miss Chan and her volunteers have also given about 34 fishing boats to some 900 fishermen in Banda Aceh. They spent $212,500.

Another $43,000 was spent on some 1,300 mango seedlings for the people of Maldives to start a plantation, as a source of income and food.

The group also spent $4,000 on library books for the children of Maldives.

In July last year, after Miss Chan quit her job at the youth centre, she was jobless and without income for two months.


'I depleted more than half of my savings, but it was worth it because I wanted to put more energy into my volunteer work.'

Still, she had to pay her bills.

So last October, she started doing freelance training work at schools, earning $600 a month.

Then two months later, she started a franchise business, which earned her up to $3,000 a month.

'Right now, I'm doing freelance work and getting jobs with flexible working hours, but my main focus is still my volunteer work.'

Miss Chan's group of 20 volunteers include doctors, engineers, businessmen and psychiatrists. There are also social workers, teachers and university lecturers.

She said: 'My vision for the organisation is that our resources will continue to multiply themselves.

'We help 100 people, and these 100 will go on to help 300 others, and so on.

'Right now, it's great because I'm still putting my social work training to good use. I'm not just a volunteer, more like an unpaid social worker.'



Source: The Electric News

Monday, March 26, 2007

Canadian journalist roughed up, local journalist held for two hours

Patrick Browne, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s South Asia correspondent, and his cameraman were manhandled by police during a demonstration on 23 March marking the return of opposition activist Mariya Ahmed Didi from Washington, where she received the International Woman of Courage award from secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Brown is in the Maldives to do a report on President Abdul Gayoom. Ahmed Rasheed, a journalist with the opposition daily Minivan, was detained for two hours at the end of the demonstration without being given an explanation. It was the second time Rasheed has been held by the police.


Over 1.36 mln passengers pass through Budget Terminal in first year

To celebrate its first birthday, a grand prize of a $10,000 travel package to the Maldives is up for grabs

Over 1.36 million passengers have used it and weekly flights are up by 120 per cent - that is the birthday present for Singapore's Budget Terminal (BT), which turns one today.

In the first month of its operations, the average number of passengers handled per month was about 72,000. A year later, the figure has grown to more than 130,000, an 80 per cent increase.

Passenger movements peaked during the year-end holidays in December 2006 when 173,000 passengers used the terminal. To date, the terminal has welcomed both Singaporeans and foreigners, especially Chinese, Thai, Filipino and Vietnamese passengers.

The number of flights has also increased from 124 weekly flights when BT started operations, to 276 flights at the beginning of March this year. Tiger Airways operates 250 flights and Cebu Pacific does 26 flights.

Currently, Tiger Airways and Cebu Pacific Airways, two low cost carriers (LCC), are flying out to 18 cities in the Asia Pacific region from BT.

The number of city links has grown from 12 to 18 cities in seven countries, with Tiger Airways launching flights to Perth last week. The other new links are to Guangzhou, Haikou, Macau, Shenzhen and Udon Thani.

In addition, airport retail and food & beverage sales have increased by more than 80 per cent and 60 per cent respectively, compared to sales performance a year ago.

The growth of BT has contributed to the overall growth of LLCs in Singapore. As of March 1, LCCs in Singapore operate 566 weekly flights to 27 cities, which accounts for 14.6 per cent of total passenger flights at Changi Airport, compared to 10.5 per cent in April 2006.

Mr Wong Woon Liong, Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), said: "The healthy progress made by the Budget Terminal today is testimony that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore had made a right decision to build a customised terminal to meet the operational requirements of low cost carriers.

"We are delighted to witness the healthy passenger traffic growth at the Budget Terminal over the last twelve months."

To celebrate BT's first birthday, passengers and invited guests were invited to take part in a live shopping game, in which they stand to win the grand prize of a $10,000 travel package to the Maldives. They were also entertained by recently crowned Singapore's Project Superstars, Daren Tan and Lydia Tan.

There were also other birthday festivities organised by CAAS, including a six-week shopping promotion from Feb 5 to Mar 18, with discounts of up to 70 per cent and weekly lucky draws.
Source: Asia One News

European travelers form bulk of tourist market for Maldives in first two months of 2007

European travelers form the major segment of the tourist market of Maldives for the first two months of this year.

According to figures released by the tourism ministry, 129,794 tourists were recorded for January and February 2007; of this, 103,551 tourists or 79.8 percent were from European countries. These figures are in comparison with the figures for the same period last year.
Country wise, Italians formed the bulk of travelers during January-February 2007 -- making up 23 percent. Last year in the same period, the number of Italian travelers was less than the British. This year, Britons made 17 percent of the tourist market with France following at 9.8 percent and Germany 9.3 percent.

Other than Europe, Asian travelers form the second largest segment of Maldives’ tourist market. Though Asians made up 20 percent of the tourist market in January-February 2006, their market segment fell to 16 percent in the same period for this year.

After the tsunami, the Japanese market fell and the Chinese market have now taken over their Far Eastern neighbors.

Source: Haveeru

Trade and travel on SAARC agenda, says Mukherjee

India says boosting trade and easing travel restrictions within South Asia will be the issues dominating a summit of the region’s leaders here early next month.

“The objective of the upcoming summit will be to see that the spirit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is translated at different layers,” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Press Trust of India news agency in an interview.

“Visa restrictions have to be removed ... all these issues we will try to resolve at various levels, including at the summit level,” he said in the interview, excerpts of which were released on Sunday.

The New Delhi summit, to be held on April 3-4 and attended by the heads of government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, will formally welcome Afghanistan as its eighth member.

In his interview, Mukherjee said market reforms introduced by South Asian nations had ensured “all the SAARC countries have had good GDP growth over the last one-and-a-half decades, despite many problems and political uncertainties”. “But this is not reflected in the intra-regional trade,” he said, noting that the volume of trade among SAARC countries was merely five percent.

Mukherjee said he hoped Pakistan would implement the South Asian Free Trade Agreement soon. “Pakistan has been raising certain non-tariff issues, which we will try to address,” he said. afp

Source: Daily Times

Soomro to open Commonwealth Parliamentary moot

The 3rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) - Asia and India Regions Conference will be held here on March 26-27, said a press release issued on Sunday.

According to the release, Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro, who is also the CPA executive committee (Asia region) chairman, will be chief guest at the inaugural session. Pakistan’s Senate is hosting the conference, while parliamentary delegates from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives are likely to attend it.

The deputy parliamentary speaker of the Maldives and speakers of Sri Lanka and Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab assemblies are also participating in the conference and leading their respective delegations. The Rajya Sabha deputy chairman is representing the Indian region, while speakers of 15 state assemblies in India are also attending the conference. The CPA consists of national, provincial, state and territorial parliaments of Commonwealth countries and its mission is to promote knowledge and understanding about parliamentary democracy, stated the press release. app

Source: Daily Times

DFAT issues Sri Lanka travel warning

The foreign affairs department is warning Australians of the danger of travelling to Sri Lanka after Tamil rebels forced the closure of the island's main international airport.

The decades long civil conflict escalated overnight when Tamil forces attacked the Sri Lankan Air Force base at Bandaranaike, the attack led to the closure of the adjacent commercial airport.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advisory issued on Monday morning said flights may be diverted to The Maldives and India.

"We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Sri Lanka at this time because of ongoing civil unrest, the volatile security situation and the very high risk of terrorist attacks," the advisory said.

"Attacks could occur at any time, anywhere in Sri Lanka.

"Australians could inadvertently become victims of violence directed at others, in particular Sri Lankan government and military targets."

Source: The Age

Sunday, March 25, 2007

US, EU, China, Japan to send observers to SAARC summit in India

NEW DELHI, India - World powers including the United States, the European Union and China will send representatives for the first time to a South Asian summit, the Indian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

Japan and South Korea will also send "observers" to the 14th meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be held in New Delhi on April 3-4, said a senior official, who wished to remain unnamed.

The New Delhi summit, to be attended by the heads of government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, will formally welcome Afghanistan as its eighth member, she said.

South Korea, the United States and the European Union were given SAARC "observer" status at a meeting of senior officials in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in August. China and Japan were also nominated as observers last year.

Formed in 1985, SAARC "aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in member states," according to a statement on the group's website. But two decades on, SAARC has few achievements to show for itself mainly due to tensions between India and Pakistan.
Last year, New Delhi accused Islamabad of jeopardising a South Asian Free Trade Agreement that entered into force on January 1, 2006 and was aimed at creating the world's biggest free trade area.

The accord is seen as one of the best hopes of raising the living standards of more than 1.4 billion South Asians. The foreign ministry official said all SAARC member states were conscious that the grouping had to move from "confabulation to implementation." "The time has come to move toward implementation," she said.

The summit next week will focus on enhancing economic cooperation among members, she said.
Bangladesh played host to the 13th summit in Dhaka in November 2005. - AFP

This lavish party is over the top

Topless dancers. Flowing champagne. UK Topshop boss throws star- studded birthday bash at Maldives resort. Upset local Muslim leaders say:

HE is famous for his tops.

But ironically, the boss of UK fashion chain Topshop has upset Maldives politicians for throwing a birthday bash there that featured a lack of tops.

The BBC reported that a leading Maldives opposition group has criticised British tycoon Sir Philip Green after he celebrated his

55th birthday in a lavish party that featured celebrities like singers Jennifer Lopez and George Michael, and American Idol judge Simon Cowell.

The bash, which was held at the exclusive Soneva Fushi resort, allegedly featured topless dancers, a giant Buddha statue and copious amounts of champagne.

Politicians have criticised the event, saying that it was incompatible with the conservative Muslim culture of the islands.

According to the British press, the party cost an estimated US$10 million ($15m) and had a guest list of 100.

More than 500 workers were hired to set up the party venue, which featured three separate stages, pagodas, and a solid granite 11m-tall statue of the Buddha.

Guests were said to have feasted on lobster thermidor and vintage champagne while they enjoyed a cabaret performance by singer Michael.

The festivities also reportedly included a topless dance routine and a fireworks display.

Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman Ahmed Moosa has slammed the bash, saying that the outrageous celebration was completely out of place in a conservative Muslim country.

He said: 'This party was completely over the top. Maldives people are easily shocked and strong in their Muslim faith. Scantily-clad women and excessive drinking are not culturally acceptable.'

Mr Moosa stressed that his criticisms were not politically motivated.

'I think my views on this issue represent a wide cross-section of views across the country regardless of party affiliation,' he said.

Mr Moosa also criticised Sir Philip and his guests for their environmentally-unfriendly behaviour because many arrived in the Maldives by private jets.

'With so much emphasis on reducing greenhouse emissions around the world, their mode of travel - like their partying - smacks of decadence,' he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party has also complained that the Buddha statue brought into the country for the party broke the law, which prohibits the promotion of any faith apart from Islam.

The group pointed out that thousands of migrant Sri Lankan workers are forbidden from carrying a personal Buddha in their pockets in order to respect this rule.

While the Maldives government has not commented on these criticisms, last week President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was reported to have extended birthday greetings in a telephone call to Sir Philip.

Local newspapers quoted the president as saying that Sir Philip's visit to the Maldives would help boost the country's tourism industry.

The businessman is reported to have thanked the president for his telephone call, and said that the Maldives was the most beautiful place he had ever visited.

A spokesman in Sir Philip's private office said that he was unaware of any regulations concerning the importation of Buddhas to the Maldives, and that the party was held at a private location.

Source: The Electric News

The President sends Pakistan Day felicitations to the country’s leaders

The President has sent messages of felicitation to the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf and the country’s Prime Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, on the auspicious occasion of Pakistan Day.

In the messages, the President extended warm greetings and sincere good wishes to President Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the Government and the brotherly people of Pakistan. Further, he expressed his confidence that the fraternal relations of friendship and co-operation that existed between the Maldives and Pakistan would continue to flourish in the years ahead.

Source: Aafathis

How can I make my party eco-friendly?

If you want your birthday party to go with a bang, make sure you don't blow your carbon budget sky high, says Lucy Siegle.

If only retail mogul Philip Green's party planner had such ecological foresight. Instead, his 55th birthday celebrations involved transporting 100 guests to the Maldives, in private jets. Each guest therefore becomes responsible for spewing out 1.9 tonnes of carbon rather negating the fact that the event was held in an eco spa. The choice of the Maldives, however has more resonance; with sea levels rising at 0.9m a year, environmentalists fear the 1,200 islands will be first to feel the climate change heat. All of this hot on the kitten heels of Liz Hurley's by now famous nuptials, reckoned by environmental consultancy Best Foot Forward to have created around 200 tonnes of CO2.

Unlike Liz's big fat carbon wedding, you'll be keeping it local. Even the Great Gatsby had the good grace to throw bashes in his own home, and nobody arrived via Learjet (one flight across the US is equivalent to driving a Hummer for a year). Local should apply to booze, too - a major requirement of most functions - Sustainweb ( calculates that a sustainably UK-brewed bottle of beer clocks up just 600 miles. By contrast, a bottle from one of the main four brewers who control the UK market accumulates 24,000 miles in production and transport. Adnams is British ecologically brewed beer while St Peters brewery uses UK organic hops. And don't let the bubbles go to your head over champagne: nitrogenous fertilisers liberally sprayed on grapes in the Champagne-Ardennes region are responsible for serious environmental pollution. If you'd prefer to go the organic route, try:

Philip Green's birthday cake appeared from photos to be about 5ft in diameter and featured a huge picture of his own face. If you'd prefer something less personally branded, Montezuma's ( are powerful advocates of having your fairly traded chocolate cake and eating it.

Is there a backlash against party bags? I was recently contacted by a concerned mother starting a campaign against them and their diposable, placcy contents. They should at least be eco paper ( and provides natural materials and toys for any kids. You can also get compostable cups and plates (

And in these times of ecological strife, even balloons count. Deflated and marooned around the English countryside, their remnants kill marine wildlife. Eco paper balloons, by contrast, are made of traditional Japanese papers, and coated with polyvinyl alcohol which is soluble in water. They come in dove and flower shapes (starting price £1.80, If you're planning to go big on lights, you could run them on a biofuel generator ( or use solar lamps outdoors inset into sustainable wooden decking (

Whatever you do, just say no to Learjets, heat umbrellas, toxic champagne or latex balloons - all of which have a habit of spoiling the eco party.

Source: The Observer

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Faisal welcomes Maldives’s efforts on environmental issues

Federal Minister for Environment Makhdoom Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat has hailed the efforts of Republic of the Maldives on resolving environmental issues like global warming.

He was talking at a meeting with President Republic of the Maldives, Mamoon Abdul Qayyum at presidency in Male on Monday.

The minister urged the President to continue his efforts against global warning and assured the President of Pakistan’s full support in tackling environmental issues faced by SAARC countries.

The President and the Federal Minister also discussed ways to further strengthen the relations between the Maldives and Pakistan in environment-related issues.

The President briefed the minister about the vulnerability of the environment of the Maldives and efforts of his government on tackling environmental issues.

Source: APP

South Asians share experiences of policing and plan for reform

Fifty delegates from around South Asia will come together in New Delhi over the next two days to share experiences of policing in South Asia and plan for police reform and accountability in the region, at a roundtable facilitated by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).

Delegates from Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and from across police organisations, government, human rights institutions, media and civil society will attend the roundtable.

This is the first time that the key players in policing from across South Asia will have the opportunity meet and discuss and debate the challenges, commonalities and future of policing in a South Asian context.

The roundtable will be opened by Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who is expected to emphasise the critical importance of police reform in South Asia and to share his vision for the future of policing in India.

"This roundtable - the first opportunity for South Asians to sit together and talk about policing - is absolutely key to getting a conversation going on police reform and accountability in the region," said Ms Daruwala, Director of CHRI.

"Each of the countries of Commonwealth South Asia share similar policing backgrounds, and face similar challenges. Talking through these challenges within the context of each different country's particular situation and looking for ways to support one another and the reform movement in South Asia is a big step towards giving the people of South Asia the police that they want and the police that they need and deserve," she added.

The roundtable begins today by looking at the state of policing in each of the countries of Commonwealth South Asia. Today's speakers include N.B.K. Tripura, Additional Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police, Prakash Singh, former Director General of Police, India, Aminath Najeeb, editor of the Minivan Daily in the Maldives, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali, Executive Director of the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives in Pakistan and Basil Fernando, the Director of the Asia Human Rights Commission, who will look at the situation in Sri Lanka.

Earlier, Ms Daruwala said: "The people of South Asia have suffered for too long under brutal, regime style policing. The time has come for real change and a move toward reform - and we can see governments and police starting to take steps towards that change."

"We have the impetus for reform, we have the desire for reform, and we have the means for reform. Now, what we need is demonstrations of serious political will to come from government and police leadership," she added.

Source: Daily India

Friday, March 23, 2007

Opposition leader's passport confiscated in Maldives

Immigration officials seized the passport of the Maldives' main opposition leader as he returned home after briefing diplomats in India and Sri Lanka on the country's political situation, his party said Thursday.

Ibrahim Hussein Zaki's passport was confiscated as he arrived at Male airport on Tuesday, the Maldivian Democratic Party said in a statement.

The party said authorities may have seized Zaki's passport because of outstanding charges against him relating to a speech he delivered at a pro-democracy rally in November. The government charged him with "attempting to create disharmony among the public," the statement said.

"Both the charge against me and withdrawing my passport are obviously politically motivated," Zaki was quoted as saying in the statement. "There is no legal justification for the government's actions."

Maldives Foreign Minister Ahmed Saeed denied the moves against Zaki were politically motivated and said the confiscation likely happened because of a hiccup in the system.

"Probably it was an administrative oversight. I expect it to be sorted out soon," Saeed told The Associated Press by phone from the capital, Male. He did not elaborate.

It was unclear when Zaki would get his passport back.

Zaki is the acting president of the MDP, which is campaigning for democratic reforms in the Indian Ocean archipelago. The nation of 300,000 people has been governed by autocratic President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom since 1978.

Gayoom promised reforms in 2004 under international pressure sparked by anti-government riots and allegation that political prisoners were being tortured. The opposition says reforms have been slow.

The government has permitted the establishment of four political parties, and the Maldives' first multiparty legislative elections are planned for 2008.

Source: IHT

4,000 extra beds needed to make southern Maldives a tourism region

An extra 4,000 beds will be needed to make southern Maldives a tourism region, the tourism ministry said on Tuesday.

Minister Dr. Mahmood Shougee told a meeting of the Maldives Tourism Development Cooperation that over the last three years, the government facilitated for 1,230 beds to be built in the southern region.

"At the end of the second tourism master plan, this target was not achieved. After we announce the new master plan, we will go ahead with developing the extra 4,000 beds," Dr. Shougee said.

The minister said that Addu and Huvadhoo atolls will then become another tourism zone like Male and Ari atolls. He said that industry insiders had requested for extra beds to be built in the region.

Work on construction of four out of the 12 resort islands is proceeding speedily, according to Dr. Shougee.

At the meeting, MTDC's chairman "Champa" Hussain Afeef said that the Addu Atoll International Airport at Gan island can be best utilized if resorts built in the southern region are oriented towards middle income travelers.

Presently, Maldives tourism is heavily being oriented towards up market travelers, creating concern among economic analysts.

Source: Haveeru

Fallen Tourism Minister’s new novel "Trial" now on book stands

Former Tourism Minister Dr. Mustafa Lutfi has released a novel, "Shariah" (Trial), depicting the life of a Addu migrant to Male who dares to dream big.

Lutfi, one of the shortest serving ministers in President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's cabinet, however, said that the novel "is not political" though it depicts the social, economic and political realities of the 1970s and 1980s when the once glorious atoll of Addu started decaying when the British left its military base at Gan island for good. The novel traces the life of a character named Jaleel who hopes to run a successful business in Male when with a twist of fate his world is turned upside down.

Lutfi insisted that his novel was a "romance set in the 1970s and 1980s" tracing the life of Jaleel and a female character named Maryam. Lutfi himself is from Addu and resigned from the government after he was transferred when he was several months into his job. The former minister later criticized the government for not giving him enough time to prove himself.
The book's "premiere" was held on March 17 at the Youth Center in Male; it was launched by Abdulla Sodiq from the National Council on Linguistic and Historical Research, who commented that the book is a good depiction of all facets of current life in Maldives.

A graduate in Dhivehi language praised Lutfi for "employing a host of emotions ranging from anger, love, resentment to sentiment" to convey the life of the protagonist as he embarks on his difficult journey in Male. The people of Addu, famed for their enterprising nature, now control most of the Maldives' economy with successes in businesses, trade and tourism. Though Lutfi is not generally known for his literary adventures, "Shariah" is his third novel. He said that his fourth novel, titled "Campaign", will be released in two months. "Shariah", written in Dhivehi, sells at Rf50 (US$3.9).

Source: Haveeru

India looks big on alternative energy - Medical waste in the Maldives into energy

Imagine running your computer on a solar energy backup for five hours a day! It's possible, says an expert who sees India as a promising destination for alternative sources of power.

Terence "Terry" J Hart, vice chairman and technical director of IT Power India Pvt Ltd, sees states like Karnataka and West Bengal ahead in the use of alternative energy.

A lot is happening in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu too, and Gujarat is coming up well.

"In Himachal Pradesh, there's micro-hydro and in Uttarakhand there's work going on over the restoration of traditional watermills for power and grain-grinding," Hart the agency in an interview.

He estimates that one could run a computer on a solar energy backup, for five hours a day, at an installation expenditure of $250.

Hart says while India is seeing "a very large production" of solar panels with a capacity of 100 MW per year, most of this is exported to Europe, the US and Japan.

"That seems completely ridiculous. But there are policy issues involved. The history here has not been of a free market. Subsidies are offered, for instance, in the case of solar lighting. Without a level playing field, the possibility of commercial-based growth will be killed," he says.

Hart argues that nobody can compete with subsidised production.

"Once the 100,000 subsidised units are sold, you are back to square one. Subsidy is largely responsible for the lack of growth. There are both state and central subsidies," he says.

Hart argues that the collapse of gobar gas plants in India was largely due to the huge subsidies involved.

Hart's firm has also been closely working in the field of alternative power.

"We developed a solar powered vaccine refrigerator. It's the first of its kind, which has no batteries. Two of these were installed in the home of the president of India, who wanted to be the first person to buy the same."

Each is priced at $1,500. These are believed to be the first commercial ones of their kind. It was worked in collaboration with WHO, Unicef, Greenpeace and PATA (Programme for Applied Technology in Health).

India is also working on the phase-out of CFCs over the past six to seven years. Production has stopped, and it is now down to 15 percent of what it was. By 2010 CFC-producing fridges are expected to be completely phased out in India, he says.

IT Power itself has subsidies in 12 countries, two offices in Britain, and 50 staff in India. They do work on solar power, wind power, micro-hydro and ocean energy.

In India, Hart's company is headquartered in Pondicherry, with offices in Delhi and Pune. "We are just starting up operations in Bangalore," he says.

But why is alternative power still seen as so illusory in its potential? "People are out of date (on the possibilities of this technology)," says Hart.

He argues that what is needed really is micro-finance. "That is finally emerging in India, and it is becoming a vehicle for offering credit to families," he says, optimistically.

His company has been involved in attempting to convert medical waste in the Maldives into energy, a costly input anyway in that island nation.

Source: Hinthusthan Time

Students learn the importance of water

STUDENTS from primary and secondary schools in Suva took part in activities which taught them about the importance of water.

Students of Mahatma Gandhi Memorial School and Stella Maris Primary attended World Water Day celebrations at the Suva Civic Centre yesterday.

With the theme 'Coping with water scarcity' students and teachers took part in activities which highlighted ways to conserve water.

The activities were organised by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and Live and Learn Environmental Education.

Doris Ravai, a formal education co-ordinator, said water education played an important part in environmental education programs.

"The booklet Our Islands with Water is a positive approach to the 2007 theme and examines ways people in the Pacific can deal with our water resources," she said.

Ms Ravai said education was essential to the International Water for Life Decade and Millennium Development Goals of halving, by 2015, the number of people without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

She said a student activity book and stickers have been sent to Live and Learn offices in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, the Maldives and Cambodia.

"Copies have also gone to SOPAC for regional use and the Ministry of Education," Ms Ravai said.

Source: Fiji Times

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Maldives anger over topless party

A leading opposition group in the Maldives has strongly criticised a lavish party held there last week by one of Britain's top businessmen.

The party was attended by a host of celebrities, including the singers George Michael and Jennifer Lopez.

It allegedly featured topless dancers, a giant Buddha statue and copious amounts of champagne.

Critics say that such an event was incompatible with the conservative Muslim culture of the islands.

Lobster thermidor

The party was hosted at an exclusive resort by the British tycoon Sir Philip Green - one of Britain's wealthiest businessmen - to celebrate his 55th birthday. It is estimated to have cost in the region of $10m (£5m).

Guests were reportedly treated to the finest vintage Pol Roger champagne and a cabaret performance by George Michael.

At one end of one of the dance floors a solid granite statue of the Buddha, 11m-tall, had been erected as around 100 guests ate lobster thermidor.

The party was held on three stages and also featured pagodas and two smaller Buddhas.

More than 500 people were hired to deal with the construction of the party venue, with hundreds more working on catering, flower arrangements and security.

The festivities were reported to include a topless dance routine and a brilliant firework display.

'Over the top'

Critics in the Maldives say that such merry-making is out of place in a conservative Muslim country.

"This party was completely over the top," said Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman Ahmed Moosa.

"Maldives people are easily shocked and strong in their Muslim faith," he said.

"Scantily clad women and excessive drinking are not culturally acceptable."

Mr Moosa stressed that he was not making a political point in his criticisms.

"I think my views on this issue represent a wide cross-section of views across the country regardless of party affiliation," he said.

Mr Moosa said that he found it "objectionable" that many of the celebrities and wealthy guests who attended the ceremony arrived in the Maldives by private jets.

"With so much emphasis on reducing greenhouse emissions around the world, their mode of travel - like their partying - smacks of decadence," he said.


The Maldivian Democratic Party has also complained that the Buddha statue brought into the country for the party was in contravention of the law, which prohibits the promotion of any faith apart from Islam.

They say that thousands of migrant Sri Lankan workers are forbidden from carrying a personal Buddha in their pockets in recognition of this rule.

The Maldives government was unavailable to comment on criticisms surrounding the party, but last week President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was reported to have extended birthday greetings in a telephone call to Sir Philip.

The president was quoted by local newspapers as saying that Sir Philip's visit to the Maldives would help bolster the country's tourism industry.

He expressed his "happiness" that Sir Philip had chosen the Maldives for his birthday celebrations.

The businessman is reported to have thanked the president for his telephone call, and said that the Maldives was the most beautiful place he had ever visited.

A spokeswoman in Sir Philip's private office said that he was unaware of any regulations concerning the importation of Buddhas to the Maldives, and that the party was held at a private location.

Source: BBC

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

People's Saarc confce begins in Kathmandu March 23

The People's Saarc Conference will begin on March 23 in Kathmandu with an objective of developing interaction among the citizens of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries.

The 3-day conference is going to be held ahead of the 14th Saarc Summit in New Delhi on April 3-4.

According to the sources, representatives of civil society, peasants, workers, marginalised group, deprived communities and lawmakers from all eight member countries -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka -- will participate in the conference in Kathmandu.

According to secretariat of People's Saarc, the Kathmandu declaration will be issued on the third and concluding day of the conference after a mass meeting.

With the Kathmandu declaration, People's Saarc hopes to draw attention of the governments of Saarc countries during the 14th summit in New Delhi on issues such as democracy, sustainable peace, human rights, natural resource management and issues of the deprived communities and the indigenous people.

Source: The Daily Star

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hotelplan, Thomas Cook to start European charter flights to Gan

Hotelplan and Thomas Cook on Monday announced that it will start charter flights from Europe to Gan island in Addu atoll in December this year.

In a meeting held by the Maldives Tourism Development Cooperation (MTDC), the two companies said that they were committed to making the MTDC's resort Herethere in Maldives southernmost atoll a success.

Hotel Plan said that charter flights will travel on the route Milan (Italy), Male and Gan (Maldives) on Blue Panorama Airlines.

Thomas Cook also announced that in November flights will be started from Germany's Frankfurt to Gan on Condor airlines.

The two tour operators said that resorts for middle income tourists were important for the Maldives tourism industry, and that should the government open more resorts in the southern region for middle class travellers, they can fly direct from Europe to Gan, without involving Male' or any other transit point.

Tour operators have hailed development of tourism in Addu which they say will be a "unique" Maldives experience; the beaches are "different" and tourists can get a first hand experience of local culture from Maldives' second most populous atoll, they say.

Mohamed Umar Maniku, chairman of Universal Enterprises and also the powerful industrial private lobby group Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI), and who also acts as advisor to MTDC, told the meeting that he cannot say anything on the development of Vilingili, a joint venture between the Maldives government and Shangri-La, which has taken several years to go into development.

"However, I will assure you that we will make Herethere a reality," he said.

MTDC's chairman, "Champa" Hussein Afeef who also has his own resort company Crown Tours, said that it took about six months to convince tour operators that Addu atoll was a viable tourist destination.

"Now about 40 tour operators have expressed interest in buying beds from Herethere," he said.

He said that he was sure that local tour operators can also charter flights to Addu but said that he first approached foreign tour operators to make sure that everything will go smoothly.

Afeef said that 50 percent of construction work on Herethere has been completed and that the resort will open in November.

Addu, which has always been at loggerheads with the central government in Male, has been one of the most neglected atolls in the archipelago, resulting in people electing opposition MPs to parliament.

The decaying atoll's revival has always been hindered because according to critics, the central government has never recovered and forgiven the people of Addu for the attempted secession during former President Ibrahim Nasir's term.

Source:- HNS