BML CEO flees the country amidst internal investigations

CEO of the Bank of Maldives (BML), Ganesan Subramanyam, left the country on Sunday amidst an internal investigation by the Board of Directors concerning sexual assault.

A source familiar with the matter said the Indian national left as soon as the investigation started.

“He didn’t resign, didn’t tell anyone,” said the source.

“We knew someone complained that he was doing this,” he said, adding that this was the second complaint made by a female BML employee.

“The first girl complained to the assistant manager shortly after Subramanyam began working at the bank,” he said, but added “the story just vanished” shortly after the complaint. The employee is still working at the bank.

Subramanyam “took everything from his office, all his personal effects,” according to the source, and no one has heard from him since.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed today neither case has been sent to the police.

BML said a staff member had “reported to the Board alleging improper conduct on the part of the MD and CEO, Mr Ganesan Subramanyam, and the matter is engaging the priority attention of the Board.”

They added “the MD is outside the country” and “a decision about his employment status will be taken after completion of investigations.”

Chief Credit Officer, Ramesh Krishnan, has taken over Subramanyam’s post for the time being, and “normal business is being conducted.”

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Resettling GITMO detainees will tarnish tourism industry: MATATO

The Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO) has warned the government that its plans to resettle Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the Maldives, and the recent Afghan peace talks that took place in the country, could “tarnish the prestigious name” Maldives has made for itself as a tourism destination.

“The association notes that the international media has been writing on the matter of bringing in the prisoners, who have been allegedly linked to severe inhumane crimes,” the association noted, adding that the BBC had described the government’s plan as “transforming a tourists’ paradise to a paradise for terrorists.”

Their concern was that tourist arrivals would decline due to the international perception of the country, creating a devastating domino effect in the country’s tourism industry.

Furthermore, they said “bringing Guantánamo Bay prisoners will badly affect the tourism industry and so this association calls on the government not to do anything that would pave the way for such a thing.”

MATATO board members have been planning a meeting on the issue this week, but it has been postponed twice due to several members being out of the country.

Secretary General of MATATO, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, said they did not have quorum to hold the meeting yesterday, but are trying to gather enough members to hold it as soon as possible.

He told Minivan News yesterday “we are meeting regarding the Afghan talks, which is quite a sensitive issue.”

Board and council member of MATATO, Sharif Ibrahim, said whether or not the recent events will have a negative impact on the tourism industry in Maldives “is all about how you see things.”

Referring to the Afghan peace talks, he said the international community “might see us as a loving, peaceful country. Somebody had to step in and help. Some people will see this as a good thing.”

As to the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, he said “it may have a negative effect,” but added everyone must keep a “broad mind” before jumping to conclusions.

“I haven’t seen any bad reactions yet,” he said, “I don’t think it will have a bad impact. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Although MATATO have voiced their concern, other associations are not so worried about the Maldives’ reputation, or its effect on the tourism industry.

Maldives Resort Workers posted an article on their blog titled ‘Gitmo resettlement will NOT damage Maldives’ reputation’.

In the article, they repeatedly argued that MATATO’s concerns of the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay detainees and the recent Afghan peace talks are exaggerated views, and are sure that neither issue will have a negative effect on the industry.

They gave several reasons back up their argument, saying that resorts in the Maldives are usually visited by “high spenders” who “generally have their heads with them. So they could not possibly be unaware of world politics or ramifications of it.”

They also argue that Guantánamo Bay detainee centre is “not a terrorist camp or training ground for terrorists,” and they support US President Obama’s bid to close it down. They also added that, “this time, the president [Mohamed Nasheed] is correct. Absolutely correct to ZERO decimals without error.”

The article further reads the opposition parties in the country are “taking advantage of the ignorance of the masses to gather support,” and they have applauded President Nasheed for refusing to answer journalists’ questions at a press conference last week.

“In this case,” it continued, “the opposition is using media to the hilt to discredit a rather commendable move by the president.”

They add that MATATO members are “just individuals who make a life selling package holidays to unwary tourists” and they are “the most worker unfriendly people who works [sic] in the tourism industry.”

The Maldives Association for Tourism Industry (MATI) did not wish to comment on the issue, because “we don’t want to lend anything to either side of the argument.”

The government has sustained any prisoners resettled in the Maldives would be first cleared of any criminal charges, and have repeatedly assured “they are not terrorists” and the transfer is “purely humanitarian.”

Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Dr Ali Sawad, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

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Claims of citizenship for Guantánamo detainees are “total lies”, says Attorney General

Attorney General Husnu Suood has described a claim by the Opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) that Guantánamo Bay detainees will get Maldivian citizenship as  “a total lie.”

After a meeting with the US Ambassador in Colombo last week, DQP has said the agreement between the US and Maldivian government involves granting citizenship to any detainees resettled in the country.

AG Suood said negotiations were still at a very “early stage” and added that claims of the government giving citizenship to foreign detainees were fabricated.

“We are not obliged to give citizenship to foreigners,” he said, noting the same guidelines would apply to a foreign detainee as to any other foreign national wishing to acquire Maldivian citizenship.

He said “we are still in the preliminary stages of negotiation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US Embassy and the governments,” and currently there is only “a basic text, a draft proposal” of the regulations and procedures for resettling Gitmo detainees in the country.

The AG’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will then make comments on the draft. “Based on that,” Suood said, “the ministry will negotiate.”

One of the conditions proposed by the US states that the Maldivian government shall “conduct surveillance on the prisoners while they are in the country, including monitoring their phone calls, letters and other communications.”

Additionally, they must “prevent them from leaving the country.”

Suood said “that’s what we’re seeking to clarify, how we deal with [the former inmates]”, and added that their comments and concerns would all be sent to the US Embassy before the transfer was formally accepted.

“There is no concrete agreement between the two countries as of yet,” he noted.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said “the government of Maldives supports President Obama’s plans to close Guantanamo,” adding that “a Palestinian gentleman is due to be transferred from Guantanamo to the Maldives.”

He said “the United States has cleared this Palestinian man of any association with terrorism or any violent activities,” and have also confirmed “he has no criminal charges pending against him.”

He noted the man could not return to the Middle East due to his association with Guantánamo, and it is feared his life will be in danger if he is sent back.

“We should support innocent Palestinians. As a people, they have suffered so much injustice,” Zuhair said. “I hope when he arrives in the Maldives, we will treat him as he should be treated: as a victim who has been jailed for many years even though he has committed no crime.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, said the identity of the prisoner “has not been confirmed yet,” and added it will only be confirmed once the National Security Committee has concluded its meetings and have cleared the detainee of any charges.

He said “it will take some time” until the committee concludes its inquiries, as they have to “look at files and go through the process they require.” Dr Shaheed said after the legal framework is looked at, they can start assessing individual detainees.

Dr Shaheed did not attend a committee meeting held today.

He said although the Palestinian man Zuhair referred to was “one of the candidates” to be transferred to the Maldives, “it is not confirmed.”

Citizenship for detainees was not something the government was discussing yet, he said.

“I’m not saying we will do it or not,” he said, adding it would only be raised after the legalities of the transfer were cleared.

He added the transfer of detainees to the country was being looked at as “temporary,” like a “half-way stop” for the detainees, and not something permanent.

MPs meet US High Commissioner

A number of MPs met with the US High Commissioner today, said Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan.

Besides Nihan, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdul Gafoor, Jumhoory Party MP Gasim ‘Buruma’ Ibrahim, DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed and Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed participated in the meeting.

Nihan said “very important doubts about the Gitmo issue were clarified by the American High Commissioner.”

“We exchanged information between the High Commissioner and MPs,” he said, noting “the High Commissioner gathered us to see our opinion on the issue.”

Nihan said in the meeting he highlighted how poor the communication is between people and the government, adding “the administrative decision was made inside the ‘smoking room’ of the president and not in the Cabinet.”

He said President Mohamed Nasheed never discussed the detainee issue with either Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed or the Cabinet.

“He always presents decisions in the cabinet meetings,” Nihan said, “but he did not discuss it with anyone before deciding.”

National security committee meeting

Parliament’s National Security Committee held their first meeting on the resettlement of Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the Maldives on Sunday, after it was postponed last week by Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid.

There are still more meetings to be held on the issue, as they need to hear from more government officials and police.

AG Suood said he was meant to attend a meeting tomorrow, but it has now been cancelled. He said he was asking the Majlis to look at Article 5 of their rules of procedure, which says “any summons should be in writing and signed by the Speaker.”

The AG said he and the foreign minister received letters of summons from Parliament, but “they were signed by a legal council” and not the Speaker. “We are seeking clarification,” he said.

The US Embassy in Colombo said they could not confirm or deny whether DQP members met with the ambassador last week, and could not say whether they spoke about the transfer of detainees or the issue of citizenship.

Leader of the DQP, Hassan Saeed, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

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Bangkok riots delay imports, but “no major disruptions” says STO

Products imported to Maldives from Thailand were delayed due to political unrest in Bangkok last week, but Chairman of the State Trading Organisation (STO), Faruq Umar, said there “was a short delay, but no major disruptions” in imports.

He said the Maldives depends mostly on Thailand for foodstuffs, construction materials such as PVC pipes, and other hardware materials.

“It has been solved and will resume soon,” Faruq said, adding “there has been no shortage as such” of any indispensable goods.

He added Maldives is also importing many products from China, India and Brazil.

Minister for Economic Development, Mahmud Razee, said “at this moment, [a delay] hasn’t kicked in yet.”

He said there could be a possible delay soon, but “now the issue has been resolved,” and he does not expect the delay to be major.

“We rely on Thailand primarily for garments,” he said, adding that many people “go there, buy them and air-freight them back. It’s only in the last couple of weeks they have not been able to do that.”

He said despite the political unrest in Thailand, “impact has not been that significant” in the Maldives.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said most “textiles, clothes, ladies’ fashion and children’s toys” in the Maldives come from Thailand, and many shipments have been delayed due to the political unrest in the country.

He added there has been an “unforeseen decline” for import businesses in Maldives that depend on Thai products.

According to the World Bank, Thailand is one of the top-five import (and export) partners of Maldives. According to Maldives Customs, imports from Thailand in 2008 amounted to 4.3 percent of all imports to the country.

Riots

After the 2006 military coup to oust then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a group known as the ‘Red Shirts’ has called on new PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

The Red Shirts had been protesting for weeks, and massive protest was organised in Lumpini Park last Wednesday. Military forces entered the park and dispersed protesters, but several smaller riots broke out across the city throughout the day.

A bank, police station, local TV station and the country’s biggest mall were all set on fire, leading to a curfew that was meant to last until today. Prime Minister Vejjajiva has now extended the curfew, but said government agencies and schools will reopen on Monday.

The curfew has been extended until 24 May, and forbids people to leave their homes between 11 pm and 4 am. The curfew has meant many businesses, and even airlines, have been operating only a few hours a day.

Prime Minister Vejjajiva said on Saturday: “We have restored order in the capital of Bangkok and the provinces of Thailand. We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy and we recognise that as we move ahead, there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country.”

According to Thai government reports, there have been at least 50 deaths and over 400 people injured in the last few weeks due to violent clashes.

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Next SAARC summit to be held in Addu

President Mohamed Nasheed has announced the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit will be held next year in the South Province.

During his weekly radio address last Friday on the Voice of Maldives, the president said the summit could take place in both Addu and Fuahmulah Atolls.

President Nasheed acknowledged it would take a lot of work and preparation to hold the summit in Maldives, but said he was “confident a successful summit could be held in the South Province.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuahir, confirmed the summit will be held in the Maldives next year, but said a final date has not been set yet. “We are looking at April 2011.”

He said there would be “huge development” in the Southern Province, noting there was already “road building projects” underway in the islands. He said a new conference centre would be built for the summit, as well as other facilities such as indoor halls.

Zuhair added the development projects for the summit will cost “upward of US$10 million.” He said the money will be partly donated by other SAARC countries and partly sponsored by the Maldivian government.

“It’s the first time a SAARC summit is being held south of the Equator,” Zuhair said, “and it will highlight the Southern Province and give us a very good name.”

Maldives was meant to hold this year’s summit, “but due to economic recession” among other things, it was cancelled and held in Thimphu, Bhutan.

“As a member country, it is also our responsibility [to hold the summit],” he said.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, said holding the summit in the Southern Province “symbolises unity in the country.”

He said “there are quite a lot of people living in the Southern Province and not everything has to be held in Malé.”

He added there is already a lot of infrastructure in the province, so the cost will be feasible for the government.

Maldives was meant to hold this year’s summit, he noted, but it was cancelled due to “some difficulties.”

“It’s a regional thing,” he said, “every [SAARC] country holds the summit.”

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“Islam and commerce are synonymous”: President Nasheed

President Mohamed Nasheed addressed the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, outlining the links between Islam and trade and expressing hope that the forum, and commerce between Muslim countries, will grow in the future.

The forum, which was held from 18-20 of May, was a platform for governments of Muslim and non-Muslim nations, and business leaders, to meet and discuss trade and economic issues.

This year’s theme, Gearing for Economic Resurgence, focused on the role of Islamic banking and financing, and how it can play a role in building a more stable global finance system.

Speaking at the forum, President Nasheed said he believed it was “appropriate that modern day Muslim nations meet to trade and invest with one another.”

He added it was important to “forge ties with nations of other faiths, just as Muslims have done over thousands of years.”

Nasheed noted that “it was through trade and commerce that Islam was introduced to many parts of the world.”

The spice trade brought Islam to Central and South East Asia, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa, he continued, and it was trade that brought Islam to the “then Buddhist Maldives.”

Arab merchants were attracted to the Maldives in the 12th century when they found out about the “abundant supply of Cowry shells…[which] were used at the time as an international currency. “

Because of the islands’ geographic location, said Nasheed, many merchants also stopped in the Maldives during their travels from the Spice Islands to the Middle East, and waited for the monsoon.

President Nasheed noted that the famous 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, also came to the Maldives during his travels and was “impressed by combs made from turtle shell, as well as rope and fibres, which were exported abroad.”

Nasheed reiterated that Islam and trade have always been closely tied, as “in the past, trade brought Islam, and Islam brought greater trade. To my mind, Islam and commerce are synonymous.”

Moreover, he said, “Muslim people have a strong culture of commerce” and the Qur’an was “explicit about correct terms of trade and commerce.”

President Nasheed said although “some people belittle Muslims and Islam—they like to portray Muslims as backward and impoverished people,” he believes “the signs of growing Muslim prosperity are everywhere: from the glittering desert cities of the Arabian peninsula, to the vibrant export economies of Malaysia and Indonesia.”

He added that, “as Muslims, we can be confident in trading and investing with one another.”

Open economy

Although the Maldives’ economy was once “relatively closed”, the president told the delegates, the current administration had “introduced a radical programme of privatisation and public-private partnerships.”

“We believe that the free market is the most efficient and effective mechanism to deliver goods and services,” he said. “We are offering investment opportunities across the board: from housing to hotels; from energy to education.”

The president said historically Maldives “exported cowry shells and provided respite for sailors. Today, the mainstays of our export-oriented economy are tuna and tourism.”

He added that Maldivian tuna is “caught sustainably” by pole and line, making it “some of the best tuna available on the market.”

A ruling made in March by the Cabinet has now allowed long-line fishing for Maldivian vessels, which is more harmful to the environment. Although the government has defended its decision, there are still concerns from the fisheries industry and environmentalists that long-lining will adversely affect the industry and the environment in the Maldives.

President Nasheed ended his address by saying Maldivians and other Muslims have “always been entrepreneurial people” and the “dynamism and creativity of the Muslim peoples” should be harnessed and built upon.

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New NGO ’39’ hopes to promote traditional Maldivian culture

The inauguration of new NGO Thirees Nuvaeh (‘thirty nine’), dedicated to promoting traditional Maldivian culture, has been postponed until next week because of rain in Male’.

The name ‘39′ is a reference to Article 39 of the Constitution, which states that all citizens will “participate in the cultural life of the nation.”

The organisation claims it will work towards “strengthening and consolidating democratic principles, human rights, gender equality and social justice; and, to lobby the government, the parliament, the judiciary, political parties, independent commissions, private agencies and individuals.”

One of the founding members of 39, Mohamed Nazim, said “we are losing cultural activities, because some groups and political parties are trying to push other ways of life.”

He said the purpose of the NGO was to bring back traditional Maldivian culture, and things people are no longer doing “because of political and other reasons.”

These include to traditional activities like thara jehun and bandiya jehun, traditional music and dance, both of which will be part of the inauguration ceremony tomorrow night.

Nazim said women in particular had stopped taking part in these activities “because they are not allowed or have been convinced it’s not good for them.”

“We are trying to tell people, ‘keep your eyes open, we are losing something valuable to us,’” Nazim said.

He noted they had approached most political parties, who have “indicated assistance and support” for the organisation.

Nazim said since “party politics are the main show of the town,” it was good to have close ties to the parties, but that while “we will take advice”, the NGO will not be a political organisation.

“We are trying to stay out of politics,” he said, adding that 39 has “members of all political parties” already signed up to the organisation.

Nazim said the NGO was founded after a group of 32 young Maldivians approached the president earlier this year to talk about Maldivian culture and moderate Islam.

He said there were currently no civil groups advocating for the strengthening of culture in the country, and “there was nothing they or the government could do.”

So they decided to found the NGO and lobby for cultural activities to be a more prominent part of Maldivian life.

“We want to bring these issues to the public,” he said.

The NGO will offer “seminars, functions and training sessions” to the public, and will bring professionals from overseas to help with the material.

“They will help us on how we’re going to survive and keep our rich culture growing,” he said.

Additionally, 39 has been contacted by many local NGOs from the islands and by foreign organisations who wish to assist them. The group said it hoped to work local organisations who are “like-minded” and promote their ideas.

Nazim explained that many of the local NGOs have “great ideas and objectives” and could do a lot for the country if they had better funding.

“Many NGOs are still not functioning because of lack of funding,” he said, noting that they already had pledges for funding from different people.

There are twelve founding members in Thirees Nuvaeh, but no full membership as of yet, “as we only received our registration from the Home Ministry yesterday,” Nazim said.

The inauguration was scheduled begin at 8.45pm on Friday night, but has been postponed due to the weather. Details about the new date will be available next week.

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National Security Committee meeting on Gitmo detainees postponed

Today’s National Security Committee meeting regarding the transfer of Guantánamo Bay inmates to the Maldives has been rescheduled, after Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid requested to cancel it.

The meeting has been postponed for next week, after a call from Shahid to the Chairman of the committee and leader of the People’s Alliance (PA), Abdulla Yameen.

He wanted to postpone the meeting until Parliament reconvenes in June and all committee members are back from leave.

Yameen said the meeting “was cancelled by the speaker,” and has been rescheduled for next Sunday. He said although he was not sure if all members of the committee would be present at the meeting, “we will have quorum.”

He did not want to comment on the issue of the detainees “as of yet.”

Independent MP for Kulhudhuffushi-South, Mohamed Nasheed, said “when the chair wants to hold a meeting, the speaker has no right to postpone it.”

He said the decision to hold a committee meeting, whether during recess or session, was completely up to the chair of the committee, “and there’s nothing the administration or the speaker’s office can do.”

Nasheed said the Majlis committees were all “very democratic institutions,” and all the powers vested in the chair were provided for in the codes.

“The only people who can object is a majority from the committee itself,” he added.

Nasheed said “the meeting will not be cancelled” and there will be “lots of hearings” with the Foreign Ministry, Police, and the Attorney General, among others.

He said the situation will be verified, details asked for and documents submitted on the matter.

“The committee will then make an assessment and then report to the Majlis.”

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Ahmed Nihan said Yameen had decided “all the party should be present,” and added “the Parliament should be involved” in deciding upon the issue of the detainees.

He said it was important the meeting was held with “the inclusiveness of all [11] members,” and should be postponed until all members returned from leave.

“If anything happens to Maldives, we should all be concerned about this.”

Price per head

MP Nasheed said he was “not in favour of the meeting going in a particular way,” but he believes it is “a serious issue” where law and policy must be looked at carefully.

He said the government was trying to paint the detainees as “innocent and helpless Muslims,” but, he asked, “if they don’t want them in the jurisdiction of the US, why keep them in a third country?”

Nasheed argued that the detainees’ fundamental freedoms were still being encroached on. “Their movements are still controlled. Why do all these things?”

He said although the “government’s spin” was that they were innocent, he noted that Bermuda’s government was paid US$9 million per head for each Guantánamo detainee they settled in their country.

“They ought not get into this deal just for the money,” Nasheed said, adding that there were children in Vilingili orphanage who needed families, money and staff to look after them. “Why take in Chinese or Palestinians?”

“If they’re innocent, free them,” he said. “But the government is saying they are not even capable of committing a crime. This is absurd.”

He noted the government had initially tried to transfer two Chinese nationals who had been detained at Guantánamo, until a Chinese delegation came to the Maldives protesting that the two men were terrorists.

He said the government withdrew its intention to resettle the two men “only after China issued a press release.”

Precedent

The small South Pacific island nation of Palau, a former US territory until 1994, agreed to take in 17 Muslims from China last June, according to The Times (UK).

The men, from the Xinjiang area in China’s north-west, belong to the Uighur ethnicity.

They claim to have been persecuted for decades under Beijing’s rule, and fled to neighbouring Pakistan.

They were taken to Guantánamo on the basis that they had received a small-arms training, which they claim was to defend themselves from China.

China has repeatedly asked the US government to send the men back to China, claiming they are terrorists, but their plea has met with harsh opposition. The US fears they will be killed or tortured if sent home.

China has also asked many other countries not to take the men in, leaving Palau as the sole country on the list of volunteers to resettle the Uighurs.

They were found innocent in 2004, but remained in Guantánamo until Palau’s government agreed to take them in. Palau is one of the few countries that does not recognise China, but maintains diplomatic relations with Tibet.

Additionally, the US gave Palau US$200 million in “development and budget” aid, but the White House has denied the money is tied to the transfer of the detainees. The Pentagon, on the other hand, has called it a “pay-off.”

Correction: When stating that US$9 million was paid per detainee, MP Nasheed was referring to the case in Palau, although the government of Bermuda also accepted four Uighurs from Guantánamo Bay. Whether Bermuda’s government accepted money from the US was not made public.

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US thanks Maldives while DRP continues opposition to Gitmo decision

The US State Department has thanked the Maldivian government for agreeing to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay, but opposition parties are still saying they were not informed of the government’s decision.

Spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, said yesterday: “The United States welcomes the Government of Maldives reaffirmation that it intends to accept detainees from Guantánamo Bay. The United States is grateful to all countries that have accepted detainees [and] for their willingness to support US efforts to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility.”

Jeffery Anderson at the US Embassy to the Maldives in Colombo said they embassy could provide no further information on the detainees being transferred to the Maldives.

President Mohamed Nasheed said yesterday: “It was very clear back then that people were arrested [and put] in Guantánamo without proper checks. People were just taken from all over and incarcerated. Today, when the jail is being dismantled, and the Maldives is among the few 100 percent Muslim countries in the world, if we can’t care about them, where is the example we are showing to the international community and other people of the book [Jews and Christians]?”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said he believed the detainee being transferred was a Palestinian man from the West Bank.

“According to the US Department of State, he is not capable of planning or executing a crime,” Zuhair noted.

He said the man belongs to the Tabligh sect of Islam, and added, “that is not criminal behaviour.”

Zuhair said the man was chosen because he was “the least controversial” prisoner and had not been charged with a crime. “This man will have complete records with him,” he said, adding all consultations about his past were held by the US government.

“He did not have a fair trail,” Zuhair noted. “Actually, he did not have a trial.”

He said the Maldives had chosen to take a former prisoner of the detention centre because the Maldives is “one of many interested in closing Guantánamo Bay and the repatriation of the remaining prisoners.”

Zuhair said bringing a Guantánamo detainee to the Maldives would give the country “prestige” and “honour.”

“The [Maldivian] population is devoutly Muslim and this will translate to more prestige and honour and better sentiment towards the Maldives,” he said. “It will have a positive effect all the way.”

Humanitarian action

State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, said it was still premature to talk about how many detainees will be sent from the controversial prison, who they are or when they will be brought to the Maldives.

“It has not come to that stage yet,” he said, “but we have certain ideas of who [will be brought].”

He added that the prisoners still have to be interviewed and many legalities are still being examined.

“We also need to know why these people were arrested,” Naseem noted, emphasising that “we are not bringing any terrorists to the Maldives.”

“Not everyone who was arrested is a terrorist or a criminal,” he said, referring to the Maldivian national Ibrahim Fauzee, who was taken to Guantánamo in 2002 and brought back to the Maldives in 2005.

“His apartment happened to be formerly occupied by Palestinian terrorists and he was taken by police,” Naseem said, noting that Fauzee was later released with no charges.

Fauzee, who is president of the Maldivian religious NGO the Islamic Foundation, said he did not wish to comment on the issue.

Naseem noted that “everybody knows” there were many wrongful detentions made by the USA after the 9/11 attacks, “similar to arrests during Gayoom’s regime.”

He said the nationality of the detainees did not matter, since this is “a humanitarian issue.”

“A lot of Muslims have been affected by this,” he said, adding that as long as the resettlement was within the Constitution and laws of the country, there should be no problem in resettling former Guantánamo Bay prisoners.

Naseem said the US State Department had carefully chosen several countries around the world and had asked them to take in prisoners who were cleared of charges in their bid to close down the detention centre.

“They [USA] has confidence in the Maldives, in our human rights record, and know the [detainees] will have their rights [here].”

He noted the US “will have an obligation” to take into consideration the living expenses for any detainees sent to the Maldives.

“But those details still have to be worked out,” he added.

Naseem said this is “purely based on human rights” and the only reason it was becoming such a big issue locally was because the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) had obtained official papers “and are having a field day with this.”

He added that the decision to resettle the detainees been public knowledge since December last year when President Nasheed announced his intention to bring in detainees during his radio address.

Opposition

The Dhivehi Qaumy Party (DQP) has been especially vocal in its opposition to the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners.

They wrote in their website: “There is no reason that a small country like the Maldives with limited resources should accept such convicts when a country like America won’t accept them.”

DQP believes the president does not have the Constitutional authority to “transfer convicts” into the country, adding that such an actions would “make expatriates working in the country as well as visiting tourists more unsettled.”

They are planning on filing a case at court and a bill at the next session of Parliament prohibiting the transfer of foreign prisoners to the Maldives.

The party added the government was “not making any effort” to repatriate Maldivians in foreign jails.

DRP MP Ahmed Nihan said he thought the move would be dangerous to the country, claiming, “I do not believe this will make any betterment to the country. It is putting our country in danger.”

He said DRP MP Ali Waheed had sent a letter to the Majlis’ National Security Committee on the issue, but the sitting has been postponed. He said it would hopefully take place in the “coming weeks.”

“We are asking to get more details. No one knows what the government is trying to do,” Nihan said. “We’re totally in a dark place.”

He said his party had an issue with the lack of transparency, noting that they knew nothing about it until “some papers between the President’s Office and some ministries were leaked.”

“The government has already made a binding agreement. Members of the Majlis hope to know about serious matters like this.”

He said resettling Guantánamo convicts in the country is “a serious issue” and could have “serious consequences. If anything happens in the wrong direction, we’re in a serious situation,” he said, referring to the geographic location of the Maldives and the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

“If the government is genuine about this,” he said, “we would already have had negotiations between the government and the Majlis.”

Nihan added that President Nasheed’s remarks to the media yesterday, particularly his dismissal of the opposition’s outcry, was “total rudeness. It was like a comment from George Bush.”

He said he could not speak for his entire party, but said that regardless of whether the government was careful about who they were bringing into the country, “I cannot agree on this.”

History of Guantánamo

Land in Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay in the Oriente Province, the south-east of the island, was rented out by the United States in 1903 to set up a naval base. It was originally used for monitoring illegal migrants trying to enter the United States through Florida and other ports in the Caribbean.

Starting in 2002, prisoners accused of terrorism were sent to a detention centre in the base, after George W. Bush’s administration began capturing “enemy combatants” from around the world following the September 11 2001 attacks.

From its inception the detention centre has been surrounded by accusations of torture and of withholding the rights of prisoners under the Geneva Convention, which would guarantee them a fair trial.

Since 2002, many detainees have been released without charge after years of imprisonment, like Britain’s “Tipton Three,” who were repatriated to England in 2004 after two years of wrongful imprisonment.

In 2009 the White House reported that since 2002, approximately 800 individuals were imprisoned as ‘enemy combatants’ and detained at Guantánamo. Around 500 of those prisoners were either transferred or released, whether to their home countries or to a third country.

Additionally, they note “the Department of Defense has determined that a number of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo are eligible for such transfer or release.”

In January 2009, US President Barack Obama ordered the closing of the Guantánamo detention centre within a year, and assigned a special task force to “consider policy options for apprehension, detention, trial, transfer or release of detainees.” He also banned the use of “harsh interrogations”.

The order states that all prisoners not eligible for transfer must be prosecuted, or the state must “select lawful means…for the disposition of such individuals.”

On the transfer of prisoners, the president’s order reads: “[The Special Task Force] will also look at rendition and other policies for transferring individuals to third countries to be sure that our policies and practices comply with all obligations and are sufficient to ensure that individuals do not face torture and cruel treatment if transferred.”

Crowley added yesterday that “since 2009, the United States has transferred 59 detainees to 24 different destinations; 35 of these have been transfers to third countries.”

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