Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has dropped the Maldives from an upcoming tour of Indian Ocean neighbours.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs announced in a statement yesterday that the prime minister would visit Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka from March 10 to 14, but gave no explanation for the omission of Maldives from the itinerary.
The cancellation comes amidst nightly anti-government protests and heightened tension sparked by the arrest and prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement yesterday that the prime minister’s visit “has been postponed to a later date by mutual agreement.”
“The dates for the visit were being discussed between the Maldives and India and both countries have decided to postpone the visit to a later date to give more time for both countries to prepare well for the visit. New dates will be announced once finalised between the two countries,” reads the statement.
President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali insisted that there was “no connection between Nasheed’s trial” and the postponement.
However, President’s Office Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ told the Associated Press (AP) that Maldives had been on Modi’s itinerary and the country had made extensive preparations for the maiden visit.
Mundhu said the Indian government informed the Maldives the visit was cancelled because the “local environment is not conducive.”
“He says India was not more specific,” AP reported.
Local media had reported last month that Modi was due to visit the Maldives on March 15 during the regional tour whilst Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon announced the trip following a meeting in New Delhi with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has welcomed the prime minister’s decision, characterising the cancellation as “a clear sign of Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to democracy and stability in the Maldives.”
“The people of the Maldives will always welcome the Prime Minister of India to the Maldives. The MDP regrets the authoritarian actions and confrontational nature of President [Abdulla] Yameen that has resulted in the Indian PM Modi cancelling his first visit to the Maldives,” said Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“The MDP has always believed in strong regional partnerships to ensure stability and security of the Indian Ocean. India has been our closest friend, and we hope that Yameen takes swift action to restore the Maldives-India relationship.”
Indian media reported diplomatic sources as saying that the Indian government did not want to be seen “involved in domestic issues” of the Maldives.
“Sources said the government was taken by surprise over the treatment of former President Mohammad Nasheed, who was arrested and charged with treason and roughed up by the police on the way to court,” reported The Hindu newspaper.
A day after his arrest, Nasheed appeared in court for the first hearing of his trial on terrorism charges with his arm in a makeshift sling after police manhandled and dragged the opposition leader into the court building when he attempted to speak to reporters.
The incident prompted official spokesperson at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, to express concern over the developments, “including the arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed,”
“But our concerns haven’t been heeded, and in this situation it makes little sense for the Prime Minister to visit,” a senior Indian official told The Telegraph.
“His trip would be pitched by the Male government as an endorsement of its policies.”
Shortly after Nasheed’s arrest on February 22, the Maldives foreign ministry tweeted: “The impending visit of PM Modi is a clear reflection of the warm friendship between India and President Yameen’s Government – FM Dunya.”
The Telegraph meanwhile quoted a second Indian official as suggesting a Chinese role in the recent developments.
“Without a concrete commitment from the Chinese, there is no way the Maldives would take on India the way they have,” the official was quoted as saying.
“I’m not saying the Chinese are orchestrating this, not at all, but the Maldives government is using China’s support to challenge us.”
Asked at a regular press conference on February 25 about China’s view on the situation, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Spokesperson Hong Lei said the issue was “a domestic matter of the Maldives.”
“China upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs. We believe the Maldivian side can deal with its domestic affairs properly,” he said.
Foreign Minister Dunya had meanwhile dismissed statements expressing concern with Nasheed’s prosecution by the Commonwealth, India, Canada, UN and the EU.
“The Government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” she declared.
In his address to the nation on the occasion of Republic Day (November 11) last year, President Yameen slammed “Western colonial powers” and declared his administration was “looking East” towards China.
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