Saturday, March 29, 2008

Maldives and Thailand agree to expand cooperation

The Maldives and Thailand have agreed to expand cooperation in several
fields and to increase the number of flights between the two countries, according to Thai foreign minister Noppadon Pattama.

Mr. Noppadon welcomed Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Shahid upon his visit to Thailand from March 27-29. The Maldivian minister said he was glad to pay an official visit toThailand to exchange information and step up cooperation between the two countries.

The two sides held talks on cooperation in many areas including information exchange and the civil sector, Mr. Noppadon said. The two countries will sign an agreement covering that within this year.

The Maldives called on the Thai government to simplify the visa application procedure for Maldivians and to exempt visa application for persons who carry diplomatic or official passports.

The Maldives asked Thailand to support its candidate to hold a temporary seat in the UN Security Council in 2018 -2019 while Thailand asked Maldives to voice its support for Thailand's bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in 2017-2018.

Mr. Noppadon said the two countries also discussed trade and investment and planned to increase flights to facilitate Thai tourists travelling to Maldives and Maldivians flying to Thailand for medical treatment.


U.N. human rights body turns to climate change

Climate change could erode the human rights of people living in small island states, coastal areas and parts of the world subjected to drought and floods, the U.N. Human Rights Council said on Friday.

In its first consideration of the issue, the United Nations forum's 47 member states endorsed by consensus a resolution stressing that global warming could threaten the livelihoods and welfare of many of the world's most vulnerable people.

They backed the proposal from the Maldives, Comoros, Tuvalu, Micronesia and other countries for "a detained analytical study of the relationship between climate change and human rights," to be conducted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

"Until now, the global discourse on climate change has tended to focus on the physical or natural impacts of climate change," Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, the Maldives' ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the session.

"The immediate and far-reaching impact of the phenomenon on human beings around the world has been largely neglected," he said. "It is time to redress this imbalance by highlighting the human face of climate change."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities, and encouraged all United Nations agencies to incorporate it into their work.

International experts have warned that the expected impacts of climate change -- including rising sea levels and intense storms, droughts and floods -- could strip millions of people from access to housing, food and clean water.

But diplomats at the United Nations have not yet sought to enshrine the right to protection from the effects of climate change in an international treaty, as has been done for other social and economic rights.

Louise Arbour, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice, has announced she will not seek another term as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights when her tenure ends on June 30. Her successor has not yet been named. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis)

Source: Reuters

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Air Maldives files RM140mil counterclaim against MAS

Air Maldives Ltd has filed and served a defence and counterclaim amounting to US$43.62mil (RM140mil) against Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) over a management agreement signed in 1996.

MAS told Bursa Malaysia on Tuesday the countersuit was related to legal action it had taken against Air Maldives on Aug 8 last year. It had then filed an affidavit in the Kuala Lumpur High Court against Air Maldives, claiming US$35.55mil.

The Malaysian carrier had received a letter from the International Court of Arbitration, Paris over Air Maldives’ allegations that it failed to perform its duties under the management agreement signed on Jan 16, 1996.

The notice of arbitration referred to a memorandum of understanding dated July 29, 1994 between the Maldives Government and the then Malaysian Helicopter Services Bhd (MHS).

Also in dispute was a shareholders agreement dated Oct 1, 1994 between the Maldives Government and MHS and a management agreement between Air Maldives and MAS on Jan 16, 1996.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Global warming threatens more than just coral

Rising sea levels from global warming will threaten the livelihoods and homes of more than 200,000 people who live on coral atolls in coming generations, the PACNEWS reported on Monday.

The warning came from Australia's University of Queensland archaeologist and expert on the prehistoric use of coral atolls, Marshall Weisler.

Weisler said the Central Pacific islands of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands as well as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean are most at risk.

Weisler said the situation was more serious than people realized with agricultural and already being lost to rising seas in the Marshall Islands, the PACNEWS, a Suva-based regional news agency reported on Monday.

"People have shown me where there used to be gardens, are now lagoons. There are coconut trees that are 20 meters off shore, half falling over," Weisler said.

"In Kiribati, there are high tides that inundate portions of villages, so people are on dry land in the morning and on stilt house villages with water under their house during high lunar tides.

"There are very serious problems for the next generation which may not even be able to live on the island that they are living on now," he added.

The International Panel on Climate Change has predicted sea levels could rise between nine and 88 centimeters this century.

Atolls are at risk because they are small, coral islands barely meters above current sea levels.

Weisler said predicting sea level rises was complex as waters could rise by different levels and have different effects, depending on the atoll location.

He said island nations would face tough decisions in the future about land ownership, economic futures and relocating entire countries within other nations.

"The people on these islands have a small voice because they are not Western industrialized countries with high populations. People aren't paying attention to them," Weisler said.


Friday, March 7, 2008

India cuts negative lists for poor Saarc countries; trade target at $40 billion

India on Monday expressed confidence that the new government in Islamabad will soon implement the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) with New Delhi and take necessary measures, including duty changes, to facilitate trade.

India has unilaterally decided to cut the negative list with regard to the least developed countries—Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives—in the Saarc region to around 500 from 744, to expand trade in goods in the region. The necessary notification to this effect would be revised within a few months. The Safta ministerial council, which met here on Monday set an intra-Saarc trade target of $40 billion in the next 3-5 years, from the present $20 billion. The council also agreed to start talks on an agreement on trade in services, alongside discussions on trade in goods. The regional study on Trade in Services has been completed, giving an opportunity for an effective services agreement amongst Saarc countries.

“We are looking toward the new government in Pakistan to take more positive steps in fulfilling the agreement in Safta, which it has acceded to but not implemented. We are looking at the new administration in Pakistan to look at this positively because it is an advantageous situation for them,” commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath told reporters here after the third meeting of the Safta ministerial Council.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Red Cross yet to spend $200M of tsunami cash

More than three years after the Asian tsunami devastated several countries, $200 million of the $360 million donated to the Canadian Red Cross has still not been spent.

After the tsunami slammed into 11 countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, on Dec. 26, 2004, killing more than 225,000, Canadians opened up their hearts and wallets.

When the Canadian Red Cross appealed for money, individuals, corporations and the federal government couldn't send cheques fast enough. Most of it came within the first month after the devastation.

When all was tallied, $360 million had been collected and the agency insists the remaining $200 million has been allocated in its quest to build 6,000 homes. The Canadian Red Cross kept the fundraising campaign up for another year, while at least one other charity had long ago stopped.

"It is somewhat startling ... that a good amount of that money has not been deployed for its intentions when Canadians in a mood of outpouring gave money in almost an unprecedented way," said Liberal MP Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East), who was parliamentary secretary to foreign affairs minister Pierre Pettigrew when the tsunami struck.

"The public must have a reasonable expectation that monies that they contribute are, in fact, spent as they are indicated to be spent. One can understand timelines, but this tsunami took place over three years ago."

The Red Cross in Canada took in far more money than it ever imagined. Some say it was a combination of the time of year and the size of the catastrophe that put people in a giving mood. In all, the worldwide community donated a reported $7 billion in humanitarian aid.

A senior industry source said one of the contributing factors for so much money still being undistributed was that the Canadian Red Cross was thrust into the international stage, forcing it to establish offices in the stricken areas to begin the arduous task of rebuilding.

Jean-Philippe Tizi, director of emergency and recovery for the Canadian Red Cross, stated: "Following the tsunami, the Canadian Red Cross was requested by (the Indonesian Red Cross Society) to drastically scale up our support in response to the overwhelming devastation, ensuring increased capacity and speed of delivery. In order to support our operations and personnel effectively, an office location was secured."

Canadian Red Cross secretary general Dr. Pierre Duplessis has said it will take at least a decade to complete the tsunami relief.

Jenna Clarke, a Canadian Red Cross spokesperson, told the Toronto Star the money, which is invested and making even more money for the charity, is committed to building homes in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives.

"I'd like to reinforce the point that of the money that hasn't been spent out the door, the majority has been committed. It's fixed, so it can't be spent on anything else – and the majority of that is on housing," Clarke said.

The Canadian Red Cross has a plan to build 6,000 houses. "We are on schedule to complete the housing by the end of the year ... but then again, it is construction."

Critics say the Canadian Red Cross spends its money slowly because it's a large bureaucracy.

"Anybody trying to spend $360 million would have troubles with capability. They didn't have to take in the money. They could have said, `I'm sorry, we've got enough,'" but they didn't," said the industry source, adding that Doctors Without Borders did exactly that.

David Morley, president and CEO of Save the Children Canada, was executive director of Doctors Without Borders Canada when the tsunami struck.

"After about five or six days, we could see that we would have way more money than we could spend at the time, so we told people we wouldn't take any more. ... We knew that was sort of all we could manage," Morley recalled.

"We could see that we would be" in the same situation as the Red Cross, he said. "It's a great deal of money to have to spend."

Morley noted Save the Children Canada raised about $5.5 million and, as of December, it had spent about $4 million. He said the response to the tsunami was a learning experience for all charities involved.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Opportunities Abound in Tourist Infrastructure: Maldives Envoy

The Maldives, the island country in the Indian Ocean, has opened its first embassy in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia. “We chose Saudi Arabia as the first destination to have our foreign mission in the region since the Kingdom, which hosts millions of pilgrims in the holy city of Makkah and Madinah, is accepted not only as a leader in the Muslim world but also as a strategic hub in the region,” said the new Maldivian Ambassador Hussain Shihab, who presented a copy of his credentials to Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in late February.

The envoy said that his country is spreading its diplomatic wings gradually by opening new missions in Singapore, Tokyo, Beijing, Geneva and Saudi Arabia. The Maldives already has diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and the UK. Shihab said that his priority is to develop strong economic ties between the Kingdom and Maldives. He said that Maldives, which has some 200 inhabited islands, is a popular tourist destination for both European as well as Middle East travelers. The island, whose population is only 600,000, attracts more than 800,000 tourists a year, he said, adding that the tourist infrastructure could be improved with viable investments from the Kingdom.

He said that the mission has plans to have an open day event at the mission for Saudi businessmen to enable them to familiarize with the business opportunities and incentives given by the state for foreign investors. The country has 100 resort islands and many more could be improved with foreign investments, he noted. He also said that one of his tasks would be to meet and assist the Haj and Umrah pilgrims who come to the holy cities during the respective seasons.


Sri Lanka, Maldives to host S Asian Football Championship

The South Asian Football Federation Championship for 2008 is scheduled to be held in the Maldives and Sri Lanka in the early part of June, a leading Sri Lankan English newspaper said Friday.

According to the Daily News, the opening ceremony will take place in the Maldivian capital of Male on June 3.

The opening ceremony will also see the match between the Maldives and Pakistan while on the same day India will take on Nepal. These four teams are in group A.

The second day, June 4, group B matches commence in Colombo with Sri Lanka confronting Afghanistan. The other teams in this group are Bangladesh and Bhutan.

The final is scheduled to be played in Colombo along with the closing ceremony on June 14.

The schedule of matches are as follows:

June 3: India - Nepal, Maldives - Pakistan in Male.

June 4: Bangladesh - Bhutan, Sri Lanka - Afghanistan in Colombo

June 5: India - Pakistan, Maldives - Nepal in Male

June 6: Bangladesh - Afghanistan, Sri Lanka - Bhutan in Colombo

June 7: Pakistan - Nepal, India - Maldives in Male

June 8: Afghanistan - Maldives, Sri Lanka - Bangladesh in Colombo

June 9-10: Rest day

June 11: Semifinals: Winner of group A vs. Runner up of group Bin Male,

Winner of group B vs. Runner up of group A in Colombo

June 12-13: Rest days

June 14: Final and the closing ceremony in Colombo.