The Chinese Fleet That Was...But Was Not In The Eastern Indian Ocean
Maldives govt softens stand under international pressure
COLOMBO: The Maldivian government appears to be softening its stand against the opposition parties under mounting pressure from the international community, including India.
With opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed asking India to intervene militarily ,followed by a story of a powerful Chinese naval flotilla moving into the Eastern Indian Ocean towards the Maldives doing the rounds in the media, the conflict at one point seemed poised for a violent denouement. The wake-up call had come. Or had it?
Increasing the level of tension came a report in an Australian website which said that a Chinese surface action group, comprising a Type 071 amphibious transport ship and four other vessels, including destroyers and a supply ship, had entered the Eastern Indian Ocean to get India to keep off Maldives.
The story was scotched almost immediately by Indian defense officials. Indian Defense officials told Times of India that the Chinese deployment was 3,500 km away from the Maldives. “The warships entered the Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait and exited through Lombok Strait to the South China Sea,” a senior Indian Navy officer told Hindustan Times.
The Print quoted naval sources to say that the Indian Navy had not noticed “any unusual deployments” or “unusual movements or deployments near the Maldives.” A Sri Lankan naval expert suspected that Australia, being a member of the anti-China Quad group could have planted the story to exacerbate tension in the Maldives and get India to act.
And yet suspicion that the Chinese could have sent a force or would send a force to bolster the Yameen regime against an Indian bid to dislodge it, remained.
India had asked the government to immediately end the State of Emergency, free the judiciary, ensure the Rule of Law and implement “in letter and spirit” the Supreme Court’s February 1 order to release nine top opposition leaders and reinstate 12 ousted MPs.
On Monday, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union made seven demands and warned that it could suggest “targeted sanctions” if these were not met.
Reacting to this through a statement issued on Monday, the Maldivian Foreign Minister said that it is seeking the EU’s help to resolve the on-going constitutional crisis in the country.
The Ministry said that the government “appreciates the EU for standing with it in this difficult period” and sought EU’s help to facilitate ongoing efforts to resolve the constitutional crisis, and to return to normalcy.
It assured that it will continue to work with the EU and its member countries to strengthen the “electoral, governance and democratic structures and frameworks.”
“The Government of Maldives remains firmly committed to upholding the Constitution and the rule of law. The Government is committed to resolving the current situation and has invited all political parties for a dialogue.”
“The Maldives looks forward to having a free, fair and credible Presidential election in September of this year, and requests the support and guidance of all relevant stakeholders,” the statement said.
The Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union (EU) had met on Monday and condemned “politically motivated” arrests in the Maldives .It called for the immediate release of all political prisoners. It condemned interference with the work of the Supreme Court and other actions against the judiciary and the judges.
The Council expressed concern over the possible impact of the current situation on the security of foreign residents and visitors, including tourists.
"The current situation is not in accordance with the principles of democratic rule and separation of powers," the council said.
"If the situation does not improve, the Council may consider targeted measures," it warned.
The Council called on the government to engage with the opposition in a genuine dialogue that paves the way for “credible, transparent and inclusive” Presidential elections later this year adding that the EU is ready to support the United Nations (UN) to facilitate such a dialogue.
In a response to this on Tuesday, the Office of the Maldivian President said that it is ready for talks with the opposition but despite its repeated call for talks, the opposition is not responding.
The government reiterated its call to the opposition Adhaalath Party, the Jumhooree Party and the Maldivian Democratic Party to participate in All-Party Talks. The Office of the President said that it had called for such talks eight times since February 15, 2016, but there has been no response.
“The Government stands ready and willing to engage in open and frank dialogue with all relevant stakeholders in the hope of alleviating some of the political discord present in the Maldives today.”
“Taking note of the conclusions issued by the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union on Monday, the Government of Maldives acknowledges the importance of, and reaffirms its commitment towards, engaging in productive discussions to address the current political disputes in the Maldives.”
“Therefore, the government urges the above mentioned political parties to participate in the All-Party Talks and support the conduct of free, fair and credible Presidential elections in September of this year,” the Presidential Office said.
According to political observers, while the Yameen regime is seeking unconditional talks, the opposition is seeking ,ahead of the talks, the full implementation of the February 1 Supreme Court judgment and the cancellation of all the arrests made since the declaration of a State of Emergency on February 5.
Earlier, the opposition had said that it would talk only with a foreign mediator but the government was opposed to it. But now, the government has come down a notch or two to accept UN mediation.
A State of Emergency was declared on February 5, 2018. It was extended for further thirty days by parliament due to the threats posed to “national security” following the Supreme Court Order of February 1.
With the February 1 order, the government found itself facing a constitutional deadlock. The Supreme Court had invaded the domain of the Executive and had violated the due procedure in issuing its orders. For example it refused to hear the Attorney General and the Prosecutor General before passing the order to release nine opposition leaders. And when it finally heard them it flatly refused to accommodate their concerns about releasing leaders who had been sentenced for terrorism, murder, bribery and fraud.
The court had not been handed. It did not consider the cases of non political people who were in jail for similar offices.
Later it came to light that Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed had been bribed by a Maldivian businessman resident abroad to the tune of US$ 2.4 million. The Justices as well their accomplice, former President Mumoon Abdul Gayoom, were arrested for attempting a “judicial coup.”
Former President and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed added to the government’s worry by asking India to militarily intervene on the opposition’s behalf. National security was well and truly at stake.
On February 20, Parliament extended the State of Emergency by 30 days but at the same time it lifted some of the restrictions imposed earlier. It said that the State of Emergency is to be applied only to individuals alleged to have carried out illegal activities in connection to the Supreme Court verdict of February 1 ,namely in activities related to the attempted “judicial coup”.
The government said that it will ensure that the State of Emergency is lifted as soon as the threats posed to national security are addressed satisfactorily. It reiterated its “unwavering commitment” to ensuring the safety and security of foreign nationals residing in the country, as well as tourists visiting the Maldives on vacation, it added.