Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Sri Lankan Militants Tried To Topple The Maldives Government In ’88

There is a Maldivian legend about a Sri Lankan prince named KoiMalé who was marooned in a Maldivian lagoon with his wife, the daughter of a Sinhalese king, and who then went on to rule the nation as its first Sultan in the 12th century AD. Nearly 800 years later, a group of Sri Lankan mercenaries, armed to the teeth, would attempt to help unseat the then Maldivian president in a coup d’état that has now become something of a legend of its own. This is the story of their bold but ultimately futile attempt.

A Plot Is Hatched

It was 1988. Less than a year had passed since the Indo-Sri Lanka accord was signed and the 80,000 strong Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) had made its way to Sri Lanka. In the northern parts of the island, battle was raging between the IPKF and the LTTE, and tensions were rising in the South. A thousand kilometres away, a Maldivian businessman named Abdullah Luthifi had hatched a plot to overthrow the dictatorial government of President Abdul Gayoom in what he hoped would be a bloodless coup. To this end, he sought the help of a group of Sri Lankan Tamil militants known as the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), led by the enigmatic Uma Maheswaran.
On November 3, 1988, some 80 heavily armed PLOTE cadres along with Luthifi and another Maldivian national reached the shores of Malé by fishing trawler (commandeered by the militants), having set off from Mullikulam beach off Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka. Prior to this, PLOTE members disguised as tourists had spent months in and out of the Maldives, laying the groundwork for the takeover.
Despite some initial hiccups, the highly-trained mercenaries hurriedly set out to capture key government buildings including the airport, and television and radio stations. But even the best-laid plans of mice and men tend to go awry, and it wasn’t long until, due to sheer miscommunication, things began to go south.


In an exclusive interview given to the Island over five years ago, Luthifi recounted that, in spite of the PLOTE cadres being asked to enter the Maldivian army barracks through a lightly-guarded entry point, a few of them had opened fire, prompting the Maldivian troops to retaliate.
“Had they entered the barracks, the majority would have thrown their weight behind us. We lost the group leader, and thereby the initiative. I didn’t want to kill anyone. I believed those loyal to Gayoom would give up quickly. They wouldn’t have been a match for the experienced PLOTE cadres. Unfortunately, due to hasty action on the part of the group tasked with seizing the army barracks, we gave the game away,” he told the Island.
The group leader Luthifi was referring to was PLOTE member Vasanthi, who was privy to the finer details of the plan ‒ needless to say, his death a costly loss to the conspirators. However, the militants were able to confine the Maldivian soldiers to their barracks ‒ at least for the time being.
According to an account given by PLOTE Spokesman Skanda, a group of cadres led by PLOTE member Babu was to take over the radio station followed by the telecommunications network. A second group headed by one Farook was to then take into custody President Gayoom and the Maldivian Defence Minister.
Babu and his troops raided the radio station and telecom towers, only to find that the premises were closed for the day. They had not accounted for the fact that November 3 was a holiday in the Maldives. The strong steel doors at the facilities, according to Skanda, were able to withstand PLOTE’s explosives. Farook, meanwhile, was on his way to intercept the President at his residence, but having been alerted to the ongoing mayhem, Gayoom had made his escape.

India To The Rescue

Things quickly started to fall apart. Gayoom, realising that he was still in control of telecom, hastily alerted the international community, seeking help and intervention from the Governments of Sri Lanka, India, and the United States.
Beating President J. R. Jayawardene to the punch, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi stepped in, offering immediate military assistance to the Maldivian president.
Read more :

Saudi king cancels Maldives visit over swine flu fears

Malé (Maldives) (AFP) - The Saudi king has cancelled a scheduled visit to the politically-troubled atoll nation of the Maldives because of an outbreak of swine flu in its capital, the government in Male announced Friday.

The Maldives was to be the final stop in the monarch's ongoing Asian tour that has already taken him to Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan.
Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim said a new date for King Salman's trip to the Indian Ocean archipelago would be announced later.
Dozens of people tested positive this month for the H1N1 influenza strain, also known as swine flu, Maldivian health authorities said. Two people have died so far.
The government has ordered the closure of schools in the one-square-mile (2.5-square-kilometre) capital island of Male to prevent the spread of the disease and has discouraged residents in neighbouring islets from visiting.
The country's main opposition, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), had protested the planned state visit, accusing President Abdulla Yameen of planning to sell an atoll to Saudi investors, a charge the government has denied.
"With growing public outrage and strong opposition to President Yameen’s attempts to sell-off Faafu atoll to the Saudi royal family, the MDP feels that the time is not right for the royal visit," the party said in a statement.
Yameen lifted a ban on foreign ownership of real estate in 2015.
Land is scarce in the Maldives where 99.9 percent of its territory is sea and the nation's 1,192 tiny coral islands account for just 300 square kilometres (115 square miles) of land.
However, the islands are strategically located -- scattered some 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator -- straddling the main East-West international shipping lanes.
The country is a popular upmarket holiday destination but its image has been hit by political unrest in recent years.
Opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed is currently living in exile in London after he was jailed on terror-related charges widely criticised as politically motivated.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maldives urges rich countries to rapidly ratify Paris climate agreement

Rich countries must ratify the climate change agreement reached in Paris last December, one of the world’s most at-risk nations has warned.
Thoriq Ibrahim, environment and energy minister of the Maldives, told the Guardian that there was “no time to waste”, in ratifying the agreement that was reached more than six months ago, and that it should be a matter of urgency for industrialised countries.
So far, almost the only countries to have passed the accord into law are the small islands most at risk from rising sea levels, and other smaller developing nations.
France became the first large industrialised nation to ratify the Paris agreementonly earlier this month, although a ceremony was held in New York in April at which countries were supposed to affirm their commitment to the international agreement.
At Paris, nearly 200 countries agreed to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.Most of the world’s biggest economies came forward with their own domestically-binding targets for cutting carbon in the next decade or longer.
For the poorest nations, likely to be most affected by climate change, the ratification is an urgent matter, said Ibrahim.
Coral bleaching in the Maldives during May 2016, captured by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.
“France’s ratification is not only another indication of how seriously the international community takes the Paris agreement, but it also brings us another step closer to having it take effect,” he said. “Small island states were the first 14 countries to ratify the agreement and deposit their instruments of approval with the UN. We encourage all countries, large and small, to do the same.”
He added: “The faster we bring the climate agreement into force, the faster we can take the action required. And we have no time to waste.”
One of the key issues for the Maldives is the damage being done to coral reefs, an issue recently highlighted by a major Guardian investigation into the plight of the world’s most famous corals, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Maldives have also experienced a high degree of coral bleaching, a sign of the death of reefs that comes from warming waters, pollutants and other environmental problems.

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.