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Maldives chill gets deeper, officials face action for meeting Indian Ambassador

New Delhi, which is closely tracking the development, has not issued any statement.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: December 15, 2017 10:35:46 am
Maldives-India relations, India-Maldives diplomatic relations, Maldives officials suspended, Indian Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra, India news, Indian Express news Maldives President Abdulla Yameen with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week. (Source: AP file)

In a turn of events that could cast a shadow on diplomatic ties between India and Maldives, the Maldives government has suspended three members of a local body for meeting Indian Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra without seeking prior approval. This comes days after the Abdulla Yameen government rammed through its Free Trade Agreement with China in the Maldives parliament — it was signed during Yameen’s visit to China last week.

New Delhi, which is closely tracking the development, has not issued any statement. Sources told The Indian Express that Indian diplomats in Male have reached out to the authorities there to understand the rationale behind the decision. “We are in touch with the government authorities on this issue,” said a source.

Mishra, who regularly tweets photographs of his meetings in Maldives, has not tweeted any photograph of his meeting with these three leaders. Nor has he tweeted any statement after December 12.

At least four ambassadors to Maldives (including those based in Colombo) — from the US, UK, Australia and Germany — have criticised the move by the Maldivian government to restrict elected leaders from meeting diplomats.

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On December 11, the Local Government Authority (LGA), which is the prime monitoring agency of local bodies in Maldives, issued a circular stating that since all foreign policy powers are vested in the presidency, any meetings between councillors and foreign diplomats could only take place after the home ministry’s clearance.

When the circular was issued, Mishra was touring the islands of Gaafu Alifu Atoll. A day later, President of the Gaafu Alifu Atoll Council, Ahmed Fuaad, tweeted a photograph of a notice issued by the LGA, dated December 12, suspending the three-member council — Fuaad, Ahmed Nazmeen and Hussain Adam — for three months.

All the three suspended councillors are from the main opposition party, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), headed by former President Mohammed Nasheed.

On December 11 morning, Fuaad had tweeted a photograph of the welcome ceremony for Mishra. The same evening, he posted the LGA’s circular. Three hours later, he posted a photograph of dinner with Mishra and the other two councillors.

The LGA said the Gaafu Alifu Atoll Council officials met a foreign diplomat even after it had cautioned them against doing so without written permission from the government in Male. There was no mention of Mishra by name, but the reference was obvious.

In a letter signed by its CEO, Mohamed Shafeeq, the LGA criticised the council members for meeting a foreign ambassador in violation of the regulations, stating that local council members could only meet foreign diplomats after obtaining permission from LGA.

The action triggered public criticism by several ambassadors. “A further restriction on democracy and transparency in #Maldives: it appears that local elected officials can no longer meet diplomats and civil society NGOs without central government permission. Why,” tweeted US ambassador to Maldives Atul Keshap, who is based in Colombo.

“Since I met elected island representatives on Thinadhoo earlier today, all local councillors have been instructed that they may only meet diplomats and NGOs with prior permission. The latest unfortunate step in #Maldives, I’m sorry to say,” tweeted British Ambassador to Maldives James Dauris, who was also touring the islands.

“Elected local councils in #Maldives now need Home Affairs permission to meet foreign diplomats — why this further step backwards? #FreedomofExpression,” tweeted Australian envoy to Maldives Bryce Hutchesson.

German envoy Joern Rohde termed the new rules as evidence of continuing “deterioration in democracy and freedoms” in the country. “The deterioration in democracy and freedoms continues. Why does the MAL Gvt mistrust it’s own people so much? Very concerning,” he tweeted.

The LGA circular cited clause 115 (J) of the Maldivian Constitution, which vests the office of the President with the power to “determine, conduct and oversee the foreign policy of the country, and to conduct political relations with foreign nations and international organisations”.

The authority argued that if councillors continued to meet foreign representatives, “Maldives risks losing the look of a unitary state as stipulated in the Constitution and this would negatively affect Maldives foreign and domestic policy with implications on international treaties signed by the Maldives”.

Condemning the “dictatorial” decision, the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has demanded that the suspension of the three Councilors should be revoked.

Hope Maldives will be sensitive to India concerns: MEA

Referring to the Maldives-China free trade agreement signed last week, India on Thursday said it expected the Indian Ocean archipelago nation to be sensitive to New Delhi’s concerns.

Stating that India attached the highest importance to its relations with Maldives, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the two countries “have strong historical and civilisational linkages, and also at the people-to-people level”.

“We are also committed to support democracy, development and stability in Maldives,” said Kumar at his weekly media briefing here. “It is our expectation that as a close and friendly neighbour, Maldives will be sensitive to our concerns in keeping with its India first policy,” he said.

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