Saturday, July 25, 2015

Maldives prosecutor general to appeal against ex-president's conviction

Decision based on Mohamed Nasheed’s complaint of procedural irregularities in his trial on terrorism charges.

Former president of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed speaks to the press, November 2013

The Maldives’ prosecutor general has said he will appeal against the conviction of former president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, who was jailed for 13 years in March after a trial the UN described as “vastly unfair”.

A statement released by the prosecutor general’s office said the decision was based on Nasheed’s complaint of procedural irregularities in his trial, including “the violation of some fundamental rights and inadequate time to prepare his defence”.

“The prosecutor general of the Maldives has decided to appeal the case of former president Mohamed Nasheed,” it said.

The president, Abdulla Yameen, has faced a chorus of international criticism over the jailing of Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the archipelago, on charges of terrorism.

Nasheed’s lawyers resigned before the end of his brief trial, saying it was biased and aimed at destroying his political career.

It came at a time of growing opposition to Yameen’s government and was expected to prevent Nasheed from running for president in elections in 2018.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, warned in May that democracy in the Maldives was under threat, saying Nasheed had been “imprisoned without due process”, and urging a rethink.

An international team of lawyers, including London-based human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, has petitioned the United Nations over Nasheed’s controversial jailing.

Nasheed, a climate change activist who was imprisoned during the three-decade rule of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008. He was toppled in February 2012 after a mutiny by police and troops that followed weeks of protests over the arrest of a top judge who had been appointed by Gayoom.

Nasheed had ordered the arrest, and it formed the centrepiece of his prosecution.

Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom, controversially beat Nasheed in an election runoff in late 2013 despite trailing in the first round.

The Nasheed controversy has dealt a further blow to the image of the Maldives as an upmarket tourist destination, already marred by political unrest on the streets of the capital since he lost power in 2012.

In May Nasheed’s lawyer filed a petition with the UN arguing his detention was illegal and a violation of international law. His wife Laila Ali also visited Washington to lobby the White House, State Department and Congress over his detention.

The Maldives government had always insisted he had received a fair trial. But last month, Nasheed was moved out of his prison cell and confined to house arrest while he received medical treatment, in what some saw as a possible sign of softening towards him.

The Perseus of Maldives

The legend of Al-Barbari and the slaying of the sea-monster
The Perseus of Maldives
Until the first half of the 12th century, Buddhism was the principal religion in the Maldivian islands. It changed, according to legend, with the arrival in Malé of one Abu al-Barakat Yusuf al-Barbari from North Africa. The nature or purpose of his visit is unknown, but it can be assumed that al-Barbari was one of the merchants who visited the Maldives for trade. He is remembered in Maldivian folklore as a medieval Perseus, who saved a young woman marked for sacrifice from a sea-demon or sea-jinn called Rannamaari.

According to some unholy pact between the people of Maldives and Rannamaari, a virgin girl was sacrificed to the demon at regular intervals to appease its bloodlust, else its wrath would turn upon the people. The king of Maldives had the task of choosing the virgin girl.

On the appointed night, dressed like a bride, she was shut alone inside a temple near the sea and, the next morning, people visited the temple to collect her mortal remains. The demon appeased, the people of Maldives could carry on with their lives undisturbed, until it was again time for the sacrifice. Some traditions suggest Rannamaari’s visits were fortnightly; according to some, the sacrifice was made on the first day of every month; yet other accounts suggest the demon only emerged from the waters on the night of the full moon.

It so happened that the family whose hospitality al-Barbari had enjoyed during his stay in Malé had a young girl, and she was chosen by the king for sacrifice.

Al-Barbari decided to pay back his hosts for their kindness by taking the place of the girl on the night of the sacrifice. Nobody else knew about this arrangement. When it was night, al-Barbari, dressed as a bride, was led to the temple. Shut inside the temple by the priests, he waited for the demon, reciting Quranic verses.

The legend breaks here into two different traditions.

According to the first tradition, when Rannamaari emerged from the sea, it cried out in pain upon hearing the Quran being recited, and returned to the sea. The next morning, when people came to collect the remains of the girl, they found, to their surprise, the visitor from North Africa there instead, alive and unharmed.

Al-Barbari was taken to the king, where he made the proposal that if he could exorcise the monster forever, the king and his subjects would convert to Islam. The king agreed to the terms, and on the next appointed day for the sacrifice, al-Barbari returned to the temple and resumed recitation from the Quran. Before long, Rannamaari emerged from the waters but, this time, upon finding al-Barbari there, it attacked him. Al-Barbari gave fight, finally capturing and killing the monster, and drowning it in the sea.

From that day, the people of Maldives were released from its depredations, and as promised, the king converted to Islam along with his people.

But Maldivian history from the Dhanbidhu Lomafanu copperplates dating from 1193 AD tell a different story. They tell of the king’s edict, whose cause remains unclear, ordering all Maldivians to convert to Islam. The order was resisted by the people, and in an attempt to quell the rebellion, Buddhist monks were beheaded, idols broken, and temples and monasteries razed to build mosques. It was many years before the strife ended, and the Maldivians converted to Islam.

This brings us to the variant version of the Rannamaari legend. According to this tradition, as al-Barbari waited inside the temple on the first night dressed as a bride, the monster came into view. As it drew near, al-Barbari attacked it and, taking it by surprise, overpowered it. He then learnt to his amazement that the monster was none other than the king of Maldives who, with the collusion of temple priests and courtiers, used this method to satisfy his violent lust and keep his subjects in fear.
In the medieval period, the Maldives’ exports of coconut fibre and cowrie shells gave it an important status, and it is conjectured that upon learning this secret, al-Barbari manipulated the situation to his advantage by exacting a promise from the king that he and his people would convert to Islam.

The account given in the Dhanbidhu Lomafanu lends credence to this version of the legend, relating how a tyrant met his match in a cunning trader and how their complicity unleashed violence on a population.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @microMAF.

This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Maldives foreign land ownership reform bill is approved

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has approved a law passed by parliament on Wednesday which allows foreigners to own land for the first time.

Up until now the constitution prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory.

But now foreigners will be allowed to buy land provided they invest more than $1bn and provided that 70% of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.

Critics fear the move could enable China to set up bases in the Maldives.

The government has denied this, saying it wants foreign investment on a commercial basis.

It says that foreign investors will be able to buy 10% of the 298 square km (115 square miles) of naturally occurring land that make up the the Maldives.

It hopes that the move will attract offshore investors into special economic zones set up by President Yameen to make the economy less reliant on tourism.

But opposition MPs fear that the measure could enable China to establish bases in the strategically important Islamic republic, which lies within important international east-west shipping routes.

Correspondents say that any Chinese move into the Maldives is certain to be viewed suspiciously by India, which considers the Maldives archipelago to be within its sphere of influence.

"We can't ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China," Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Eva Abdulla told the AFP news agency.

But Vice President Ahmed Adeeb rejected concern over the move, pointing out that it had been done to generate foreign investment.

"We are not going to sell land to other countries, whether it's China or Saudi Arabia," he was quoted as saying by Minivan News on Thursday.

The Maldives comprises thousands of tiny coral islands located across the equator.

It has endured considerable political unrest since its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was overthrown in a coup in February 2012.

There have been frequent street protests in the capital Male since Mr Nasheed was convicted earlier this year on terrorism charges.

Maldives law 'selling' foreigners islands stokes Delhi's fears of rising Chinese role

With anyone investing $1bn now able to own land in perpetuity, concerns are growing that the Maldives will become the focus of an Indian Ocean cold war

A new law allowing foreigners to own land on the Maldives, the island nation known for luxury tourism, has sharpened regional competition for influence over one of the busiest oceans in the world.
On Thursday Abdulla Yameen, the controversial president of the Maldives, approved a law allowing foreign ownership of land in the country for the first time, triggering concern in Delhi over a possible opportunity for China to extend its reach in the Indian Ocean region.
Dozens of foreign companies already run luxury resorts on islands that they lease from the government of the honeymoon islands for a maximum of 99 years.
The law would allow foreigners who invest more than $1bn (£650m) to own land in perpetuity, provided 70% of it is reclaimed from the sea.
India has watched warily as the Maldives, which held its first free elections in 2008 after more than three decades of autocratic rule, has tilted towards China in recent years.
The two emerging Asian powers are battling for influence in the region, with Delhi concerned at what it sees as aggressive moves by Beijing in what it considers its backyard.
India won the most recent round of manoeuvring when President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka was ousted in a surprise defeat in January. Rajapaksa had increasingly looked to China for investment and diplomatic support. The new Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, has shifted Sri Lanka’s policy back towards Delhi.
The Maldives have also seen competition. An Indian company had a major contract to extend the existing airport cancelled, while the Chinese are helping to build a crucial $300m road link between the airport and the capital, Malé. India was also closer to the former president and current opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed, who was ousted in 2012 and is currently under house arrest.
Yameen went out of his way to reassure India in an address to the nation. “The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” the president was quoted as saying by the local Minivan News website.
Yameen said the foreign policy of the Maldives would not change and the new move would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries”.
Officials in Delhi said they were examining Yameen’s statements closely.
Lawmakers in the Maldives voted on Wednesday for the bill, which easily passed after a brief debate, with 70 members in favour and 14 against, the assembly said in a statement.
But opposition MPs expressed fears that their small nation, made up of about 1,200 tiny islands, would be caught in the “a cold war brewing between India and China”.
Since Nasheed was jailed for 13 years in March there have been regular protests on Malé’s streets.
Loyalists have argued that the detention of the human rights activist turned politician is an attempt to shut down opposition to the government of Yameen.
David Cameron called last month for “political dialogue [and the] release of Nasheed and all political prisoners” in the Maldives.
The Maldivian prosecutor general said on Friday that he would appeal against Nasheed’s conviction.

The government in the Maldives has decided to commute a prison term handed down to former President Mohamed Nasheed to time under house arrest.

The Maldivian government, which has been facing mounting international pressure over the conviction of Nasheed, had already moved him from prison and placed him under house arrest.

On Friday, however, his international lawyer, Jared Genser, confirmed that Nasheed’s 13-year prison sentence has been commuted to a term under house arrest.

“The government of the Maldives has permanently moved President Nasheed to house arrest for the balance of his 13-year term in prison,” Genser told reporters in the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo.

Earlier on Friday, the government also announced, “The prosecutor-general of the Maldives has decided to appeal the case of former President Mohamed Nasheed.”

Nasheed, who was sentenced to 13 years in March, has complained to the United Nations about “the violation of some fundamental rights” in his trial, adding that his lawyers had “inadequate time to prepare his defense.”

He was arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act and charged for authorizing the detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2012, when he was the country’s president.

Fair or unfair?

In May, the United Nations Human Rights Office assessed the trial of Nasheed as “vastly unfair” after a UN delegation to the Maldives found the conviction of the former president to be biased.

 Mona Rishmawi, who headed the mission to the Maldives, said Nasheed’s trial had been “politically biased, inadequate and subject to external influence.”

However, the Maldivian government says the former president had received a fair trial.

Nasheed was the first democratically-elected president of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012.

Maldives commutes ex-president’s 13 year term to house arrest

Former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed's 13 years of jail term has been commuted to house arrest, media reported. Ex-president was sentenced for 13-year prison after he was found guilty of ordering the arrest of a judge while in office.

Maldives commutes ex-prez’s term

"The government of the Maldives has permanently moved president Nasheed to house arrest for the balance of his 13- year term in prison", his international lawyer Jared Genser said. The lawyer's comments came hours after the Maldives government said it would appeal against Nasheed's conviction in March which drew heavy international criticism.

A spokesman for the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo confirmed the changes to Nasheed's sentence, but said he had no further details. "It is correct that the jail term is now commuted to house arrest," Hussain Mazin told AFP.

Indian Ocean games

Delhi must stop complaining and start thinking of how to repair strained ties with the Maldives

New Delhi is predictably upset with the Maldives for an amendment to the country’s constitution permitting foreigners to own land, provided the entity invests a minimum of $1 billion. The move is being seen as an attempt by the Indian Ocean atoll to forge closer ties with China. Chinese companies are already involved in other projects, notably the construction of a bridge to connect Hulhumale island, on which the airport is, with the capital Male. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit last September, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen readily agreed to become part of China’s ambitious maritime silk route project. New Vice President Ahmed Adeeb has said that criticism of the amendment as a backdoor move to permit foreign powers to establish military bases on its territory are unfounded. As many as 70 members in the 85-seat Majlis voted in favour of the changes. Among the 19 opposition members who voted for the bill, 10 were from the Maldivian Democratic Party, whose leader, Mohamed Nasheed, a former president, is under house arrest. The concern in India, and for some in the Maldives, too, is that the possibility has not been ruled out entirely.

Maldives, Maldives land law, india Maldives ties, China, Xi Jinping, indian ocean, india china relationship, india china ties, china maldives project, indian express editorial, ie editorial

Sovereign nations act according to what they believe are their own best interests. Other countries have to work towards ensuring that these interests coincide with theirs. Delhi, which harbours an unrealistic expectation that its neighbours must play its game or none at all, was unfortunately not deft at deciphering the signals from the Maldives right from the time Nasheed was ousted back in 2012, or far thinking. It lost no time in dropping the young MDP leader and backing the new regime. It was only when the Indian firm GMR was turfed out from the Maldives airport project did Delhi fathom this Indian Ocean game ran deep. Despite his political brinkmanship, Nasheed was the most India-friendly politician in the Maldives. If some in his party have now voted in favour of the amendment, it is in the hope that in return, the Yameen government may give some concessions on Nasheed’s 13-year jail term, handed down by an anti-terrorist court earlier this year. 

India must stop complaining and start thinking of how to repair strained ties with this small but strategically important neighbour it has helped in many ways. One way to do this might be to step up engagement with all political players there immediately.


Maldives welcomes everyone with free tourist visas

The beautiful country of the Maldives welcomes everyone with open arms. Accordingly the Maldives is one of the easiest countries in terms of visa and immigration arrangements.

Any tourist from any nationality is granted a free 30-day visa on arrival to the Maldives. Hence, there is no need to undergo any hassle with regards to obtaining a prior visa. Once visitors reach the airport, Immigration personnel will assist with the visa procedures.

Obtaining a Tourist Visa

The free 30-day visa is granted upon complying with the following procedures. Visitors should have:

•A valid passport or travel document authorized by a sovereign state.

•A valid return ticket to exit the Maldives.

•The financial capacity to cover the expenses for the duration of the stay or a confirmed reservation from a tourist hotel or resort in the Maldives. The financial capacity is measured at the rate of US$150 per day.

Visa Conditions

The Department of Immigration and Emigration reserves the right to issue a visa for any number of days, not exceeding the 30-day limit. The Immigration department reserves the right to deport any person using the tourist visa to work in the Maldives, participate or incite unlawful activities, disrupt the political and religious harmony of the country, or become a nuisance to the public. So relax, enjoy, and behave.

Extending a Tourist Visa

The free 30-day visa period can be extended for a further 60 days, totaling 90 days including the original free visa period of 30 days. To extend the tourist visa tourists must complete a “Visa Extension Application Form” with the Department of Immigration and Emigration, before the free 30-day visa expires. The Department of Immigration and Emigration will re-evaluate the financial capacity of the applicant, and in addition a fee of MVR 750 (US$49) will be levied for a visa extension.

It really is that easy to visit the Maldives, so start packing!

Maldives To Allow Foreigners To Own Land

Lawmakers in the Maldives have voted to allow foreign ownership of land for the first time, triggering concern over a possible landgrab by China in the strategic Indian Ocean region.

Dozens of foreign companies already run luxury resorts on islands that they lease from the government of the honeymoon islands for a maximum of 99 years.

The new law, which has yet to be ratified by the president, would allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion (RM3.8 billion) to own land in perpetuity, provided 70% of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.

The bill passed easily on Wednesday after a brief debate, with 70 members voting in favour and 14 against, the assembly said in a statement.

But opposition lawmakers expressed fears that the move could clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which straddles vital international east-west shipping routes.

Regional superpower India is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area, which it considers to be within its sphere of influence.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Eva Abdulla said she feared the nation could become a frontline for a potential power struggle between India and China.

"We can't ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China," Abdulla told AFP by telephone from the capital island Male.

"What is in our interest is peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. India is our neighbour and we are not a country in the South China Sea," she said referring to China's dispute with several countries over claims to the area.

The government has said the move would not threaten the Maldives' sovereignty and was needed to attract large-scale foreign investment for projects.

The Maldives is seeking aid and investment from Beijing to build a 1.4km bridge linking Male with the nearby airport island.

Ahead of the vote, President Abdulla Yameen's half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — the country's former strongman leader — had urged further public debate on the controversial move.

"I have appealed to (the) president to seek public opinion on proposed constitutional amendment re land ownership before ratification," he tweeted.

The Maldives, made up of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator, has been plagued by political unrest since the toppling of the country's first democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed in February 2012.

Since his conviction earlier this year on terrorism charges there have been regular protests on Male's streets.


Indian Foreign Secretary Meets with Maldivian Envoy Twice, Receives Assurances

Underlining the seriousness with which India viewed Maldives government’s move to allow foreign land ownership, foreign secretary S Jaishankar has held two meetings in two days with the Maldivian high commissioner Ahmed Mohamed.

Sources said that Maldivian envoy was “summoned” to South Block on Wednesday evening, within a few hours after parliament in Male passed the constitutional amendment to allow foreign land ownership which alarmed the Indian establishment.

Mohamed again met with Jaishankar on Thursday morning, which was described as a “follow-up”.

On Wednesday, Maldives parliament passed the law to modify the constitution to permit foreign nationals to own land for the first time in the Indian Ocean nation. Indian observers have been worried that this will allow China, with Chinese firms in front, to get a decisive foothold in the Indian Ocean.

At the Wednesday meeting where Mohamed was summoned, India expressed its concerns about the impact of the law, which was pushed through in just 48 hours immediately after the lawmaking process was shortened by a parliamentary panel.

The Maldivian diplomat indicated to that his government was willing to engage with India to meet its concerns. This morning’s meeting was essentially to give further assurances that India’s strategic security in the Indian Ocean region will not be compromise by Maldives.

At a press conference in the afternoon in Malé, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen publicly announced that New Delhi had been assured that it had not cause for alarm.

“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” said Yameen.

He said that the new land policy does not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries”.

China has been steadily making its presence felt in the Indian ocean region, where India aims to be the dominant security provider.

The administration of President Yameen has been growing increasingly close to Beijing, with Chinese president Xi Jinping even making a state visit last year. Maldives has also signed up to China’s Maritime Silk route initiative.

The Maldivian ambassador had in an exclusive interview on Wednesday evening that India’s security will not be jeopardized.

“We sit in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We will not consciously do anything to disrupt the security balance of the Indian Ocean region,” Mohamed told Express.

The Maldivian envoy termed the trilateral forum with India and Sri Lanka as the “fundamental lens” through which his country envisioned security in the region.

When asked about India’s concerns, Mohamed said that Maldives will not deliberately harm its relations with India, its closest neighbour. “Why would a sane person harm themselves deliberately?” said Mohamed, when reminded of India’s concerns.

The constitutional amendment was also to attract investment to Maldives, he contended. “Our only economic pillar is tourism. We need to diversify our economy. We cannot keep the Maldives economy dependent only on one sector,” he said

Full text of interview with Maldives Vice President Ahmed Adeeb

India has raised strong concerns over the Maldives government’s decision to pass a constitutional amendment allowing foreign ownership of islands, a move that could give China a stranglehold in the Indian ocean region. Speaking exclusively to The Hindu, Maldives’ new Vice President Ahmed Adeeb defends the decision, insisting that the move was a commercial one not a strategic one.

How do you respond to India’s concerns that the constitutional amendment your government has passed could have ‘national security’ implications?
This constitutional amendment is purely a corporate, commercial decision, as we want to do this for investments of more than a billion dollars. There are many Maldives atolls that need reclamation done. We have already reclaimed two islands near the Male airport, and there are now people living there. There are many hotels there as well. We need much more by way of multinational’s investment for this. It is just a political play by the opposition to try and create a problem between the Maldives and India, to try and say that we would sell off land to China, but there is no such idea or communication in the government. We are open for business, but not open to give up our sovereignty to any country including China.
We have opened for SEZs and we have requests from many companies to be able to own lands in perpetuity. So far we have given leases for 99 years to them, for investments of around $200 million. But now we want to build big projects, like IT parks, like townships, so we need to give them more. Maldives is a great place for them as we have year-round good weather, environment, so this amendment is to help them invest in the Maldives. Even in India, investments over $5 million get several concessions.
In addition we have put into place many safeguards. First, it is only for investments over $1 billion, then parliament has to pass the project, it has to be transparent, and then they have to reclaim land up to 70 per cent to do the project. The opposition wants to say they will come and run military bases, but that is not the reality. We are looking at projects like Singapore Marina Bay Sands or Dubai’s Palm islands. We are not looking at strategic projects.
You speak of Singapore and Dubai type of projects, but some would argue that given the stipulations, only China can actually benefit from the new law: as it has the money, the desire, and the technology for reclamation…

Firstly China has never shown an interest in this kind of project. They would like to partner with us in infrastructure projects, like the airport, give us concessional loans etc. We are seeing much more interest from the Middle East (West Asia), especially from royal families there. Maldives can be like Bahrain is for them. Please remember that President Yameen is a person who declined the American offer for a base under the SOFA agreement. Because our sovereignty is not on offer. And we don’t want to give any of our neighbours, India....any cause for concern. We don’t want to be in a position when we become a threat to our neighbours.

Have there been tensions with India over this? How did India raise its concerns?

The President’s statement today was to communicate to India in particular that what is our intent. We are hoping for a visit to the Indian Foreign Secretary, and we have given assurances to the Indian government about this. It is very strange that the opposition should have caused these concerns with their comments. Let me ask about the opposition party MDP of Mr. Nasheed… is there any hope of a reconciliation now, given that the MDP supported the government on the votes in parliament?

Yes, we are trying to reconcile politically. There are two processes for appeal in the High Court and the Supreme Court. Those are independent, but the prosecutor general has announced that the State will appeal to the High Court to help finish Mr. Nasheed’s appeal process. So we are now supporting Mr. Nasheed’s request for a proper appeals process in court. We have also allowed international observers to come and they can study the whole process, even the Indian media should come.

Relations with India have been under strain over the government’s treatment of Mr. Nasheed, and PM Modi cancelled his visit. Are you hopeful relations can improve?

The PM’s visit was cancelled because of the opposition’s uproar here, as they had planned a protest to overthrow the government in Male. We understood why PM Modi didn’t want to come in the middle of political turmoil, and India didn’t want to be seen as interfering. We are trying to ensure the right environment so Mr. Modi can visit us soon. People in the Maldives are pro-India, we would not like any tensions in our relations with India. This weekend marks our 50th year of independence, and you can see, we have invited Indian bands to perform, and stars like Bipasha Basu who are very popular here will come to. So I hope this is all taken positively and we build on our relations.

Maldives President's brother, Mamoon Abdul Gayoom raises objections to constitutional amendment favouring China

The Abdullah Yameeen government's decision to amend the Constitution to allow land holdings to foreigners that may lead to larger Chinese footprints in Maldives have drawn ire from no less than Mamoon Abdul Gayoom, former President and brother of current leader.

Gayoom, former Maldivian strongman and one who still wields influence, has not only tweeted to lodge his protests but also demanded a referendum through a letter to Yameen on the controversial move that has raised eyebrows not in Delhi but also in Male.

Gayoom, the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and half brother of Yameen, urged the president to seek public opinion on ratifying the constitutional amendment. In a letter sent to Yameen, Gayoom said previous governments had refrained from selling parts of Maldivian territory to prevent influence "over the country's independence, sovereignty, and resources", political sources told ET from Male over phone.

This is the first time Gayoom has publicly opposed Yameen. Sources indicated that Gayoom is also unhappy with the appointment of Ahmed Adeeb as the country's Vice President. Former Tourism Minister Adeeb is the closest political aide of Yameen and wields enormous influence in the current administration. The provisions of the new law will allow foreigners who invest more than $1billion to purchase land. At least 70% of the project site must be reclaimed. The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory, but allowed leasing of land for up to 99 years.

There has been concern within the security establishment at the new law, given that it could, technically, enable a foreign nation to recover land and set up critical infrastructure, including those of a military/surveillance nature on the island chain.


Maldives allows foreigners to buy land for first time

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has approved a law passed by the country’s parliament allowing foreign ownership of land for the first time.

Yameen signed the new legislation on Thursday after lawmakers approved it the previous day.

Those who want to buy land in the Maldives must invest more than USD 1 billion provided that only 70% of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean country.

The government says it approved the law only to attract foreign investment on a commercial basis, dismissing fears that it could undermine security in the Indian Ocean region.

"We want to mobilize investments worth at least one billion dollars," the country’s Vice President Ahmed Adeeb said.

The Maldives is a sovereign island country made up of almost 1,200 tiny islands situated in the Indian Ocean south of India and west of Sri Lanka.

It has endured considerable political unrest since its first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, was overthrown in a coup in February 2012.

Want to buy a slice of the Maldives? Now you can - for $1b

Decision by the Maldives government to open up islands to foreign buyers has sparked fears that China is poised to seize a foothold in the Indian Ocean

A view of the beach on Athuruga island on May 25, 2012 in Athuruga, Maldives. Photo / Getty Images

Maldives' government has passed a law which will, for the first time, allow foreigners to purchase land.

But the new law has a sting in its tail.

The constitutional amendment bill, passed by the Maldivian parliament on Wednesday, states that investors must spend at least $1 billion (£640m) to own land on one of the 1,200 islands in perpetuity. Furthermore, 70 per cent of the land must be reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.

And the conditions imposed have sparked fears that the bill is designed to clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which straddles vital international east-west shipping routes. China has expertise in reclamation technology and can easily make investments of that size.

India, which considers itself the regional superpower, is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area - which it considers to be within its sphere of influence.

Eva Abdulla, an MP of with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, said she feared the nation could become a front line for a potential power struggle between India and China.

"We can't ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China," she said.

"What is in our interest is peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. India is our neighbour and we are not a country in the South China Sea," she said referring to China's dispute with several countries over claims to the area.

Ahead of the vote, President Abdulla Yameen's half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom - the country's former leader - had urged further public debate on the controversial move.

"I have appealed to (the) president to seek public opinion on proposed constitutional amendment re land ownership before ratification," he tweeted.

Anand Kumar, a strategic affairs analyst at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, agreed that the law could help China gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean.

"They have been creating islands in South China Sea, and they will try to replicate the same exercise in Indian Ocean," he said. "They tried to do the same thing with Sri Lanka. It appears that since they have lost political influence in Sri Lanka, they are trying to regain the same ground in Maldives."

The government has said the move would not threaten the Maldives' sovereignty and was needed to attract large-scale foreign investment for projects.


Cruise service connecting Kochi-Colombo-Maldives expected to commence from Oct

A one-of-its-kind product that could give major boost to regional tourism in South Asia, a cruise ship linking Kochi with Colombo and Maldives is expected to commence operations from October this year. This information was given by G Kamala Vardhana Rao, Secretary –Tourism, Government of Kerala. He said that a Sri Lankan company has come forward to launch a cruise service with a capacity of 500 pax connecting the three ports.

The company has had discussions with Cochin Port Trust to work out modalities and concessions recently. A lot of Chinese and Japanese tourists who visit Sri Lanka and Maldives generally skip India. This cruise product might help Kerala to lure these tourists to their shores for couple of nights. Sri Lanka and Kerala had recently agreed to work closely to develop tourism circuits and undertake joint promotions.

Joint promotional activities will be conducted by Kerala and Sri Lanka to target travellers from big source markets like China, Germany and Russia. This will help in bringing more tourists to both these destinations. When asked about the long pending sea plane project, Rao said that the services are expected to re-commence from next month, coinciding with Onam festival season.


Biman hires Mega Maldives to tackle hajj pressure

Biman Bangladesh Airlines has struck a deal with Mega Maldives Airlines to meet the additional demand for aircraft in times of hajj, officials said.

The deal will cost the state-run airline at least $4.785 million, which is equivalent to Tk 38 crore.

Mega will work as a supporting carrier for Biman, which some bidders claim is a major deviation from the conditions of the bidding.

They said the tender was to operate Dhaka-Jeddah-Dhaka hajj flights, which Biman will now run with its own fleet by suspending regular flights on some routes and reducing others.

Mega Maldives has been hired for a total of 750 flight hours for three months, with each hour costing Biman $6,380. If Biman wants to resume regular flights or bump up flights on the other routes, the Mega aircraft will be used.

Biman will be charged $5,800 for each flight hour beyond the contracted 750. The aircraft will be taken from early next month on an ACMI (aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance) basis, popularly known as wet lease.

Mega Maldives has won the contract as the lowest bidder, said Abdur Rahman Faruky, Biman's general manager for corporate planning.

“There was no deviation or breach of terms and conditions mentioned in the tender documents. Biman will use Mega where it requires,” said Mohammad Azad Rahman, Biman's manager of planning.

“We have hired Mega for 750 hours to tackle the additional pressure during Hajj time. It doesn't mean that we will use them on the Dhaka-Jeddah-Dhaka route only. We can run Mega aircraft on any of the Biman's routes.”

Presently, Biman flies passengers and cargo to 18 international destinations in Asia and Europe with its 12 aircraft.

But the flag carrier is stretched to its limits during hajj period.

Around 100,000 people will perform hajj from Bangladesh this year and Biman will carry half of the total pilgrims and Saudi Airlines the rest.

But Biman's fleet is not enough to deal with the pressure.

Hajj flights to carry Bangladeshi pilgrims to Saudi Arabia will begin on August 16 and continue to September 18. The return hajj flights will begin on September 27 and continue until October 28.

In 2014, Biman did not lease any aircraft to run hajj flights as their experience in the previous year was bitter.

An aircraft Biman had leased to carry pilgrims in 2013 could not fly for not having clearances from the Saudi Arabian civil aviation authority. The disruption of flight schedule had caused immense sufferings to the pilgrims.

But this time, they are being extra cautious so that the sufferings are not repeated, said Biman officials.

Eight international airlines responded to Biman Bangladesh Airlines' tender seeking aircraft during hajj time this year. Mega Maldives won the bidding.

Founded in 2009 as a US-Maldives joint venture, Mega Maldives now serves as the international airline of the island nation. Almost 10 percent of the total tourists arrive in the Maldives on Mega.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Maldives government sacks vice president for 'treason'

Mohamed Jameel, until recently an ally of controversial president Abdulla Yameen, dismissed in his absence under unclear circumstaces

The Maldives parliament has sacked the country’s vice president and accused him of treason, as international concern mounts over the state of democracy on the islands.

Legislators voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday evening to oust Mohamed Jameel, who was the running mate of President Abdulla Yameen in a controversial 2013 election but has now fallen out with him.

The 45-year-old vice president, who was abroad at the time of the vote, was also accused of colluding with the opposition, although the precise nature of the charge remains unclear.

Yameen, the half-brother of former Maldivian strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for three decades until 2008, already faces international criticism for jailing opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed for 13 years on charges of terrorism in March.

In June Nasheed was moved to house arrest to undergo medical treatment.

The United Nations said the trial of Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, was “vastly unfair”, while the US secretary of state John Kerry warned that democracy was under threat.

Yameen and Jameel have been at loggerheads in recent months even though both had worked together to defeat Nasheed. Jameel accused the president of sidelining him about four months after his November 2013 election.

The vice president, who was not allowed legal representation, said Yameen was undermining the rule of law.

“This is a testament to the state of the rule of law in the Maldives,” Jameel said in a statement quoted by the local Minivan News service, before the vote on his sacking was taken in parliament. “Every act was planned at driving a wedge between myself and the people who elected me. My reputation was threatened and finally I started receiving threats to my life.”

Paradise jihadis: Maldives sees surge in young Muslims leaving for Syria

The image of the Maldives as an upmarket tourist destination has been dented by political unrest since the toppling of Nasheed in February 2012.

Yameen’s defence minister, Mohamed Nazim, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in March this year for trying to topple the government, and another former defence minister, Tholhath Ibrahim, was sent to jail for 10 years in April for terrorism.

Yameen came to power in 2013 after a runoff vote that had been delayed on the orders of the supreme court following a first-round election led by Nasheed.

In a statement issued later on Wednesday, Yameen’s office said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had been sworn in as the new vice president.