A group of masked men wielding machetes cut down areca nut palm trees across Malé in the early hours of Friday morning.
Eyewitnesses told local media that the group felled about 25 palm trees planted by the city council in late 2011 on both sides of the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu.
On the previous night, (October 22), two trees in front of the Prosecutor General’s Office and one near the Amity shop were also chopped down.
Credible sources have suggested that the trees were felled by Specialist Operations (SO) police officers in plain clothes, with the incident causing a rift between the SO and capital divisions of the service.
Police have said the incident was reported around 3:30am on Friday morning and that no arrests have been made yet.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party-majority (MDP) city council has since called on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“This revolting, abhorrent and unlawful act was an injury caused to all citizens of the Maldives and especially the beloved people of Malé,” reads a press release issued by Mayor Mohamed Shihab yesterday.
Such acts would not deter either the council’s efforts to beautify the capital or calls to ensure peace and security, the statement added.
The Indian High Commission had donated the areca palm trees in October 2011.
Former Police Commissioner and sitting Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz told local media yesterday that the police should have stopped the group in the act.
If not, he added, police have the competence and the technology to find and arrest the perpetrators, referring to an extensive network of security cameras in the capital.
Rumours of police involvement in the vandalism have circulated online, with a photo purportedly of one of the perpetrators in the act being shared on social media.
Patrolling officers from the capital police command allegedly followed the group, intercepted one cycle and baton charged two suspects.
However, the men fled and were seen entering the police Iskandhar Koshi barracks.
The group allegedly used police radios to verbally abuse the duty officer at the command centre and the SO SWAT team has since been transferred to the training island Feydhoo Finolhu.
The police media official has, however, dismissed the allegations today as baseless and intended to bring the Maldives Police Service into disrepute.
Anti-government protesters cut down the areca palm trees during demonstrations in January 2012 against the MDP government’s decision to detain Criminal Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
Speaking to reporters last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed criticised the failure of police to apprehend the perpetrators despite video and photographic evidence.
“The safety and security of the public have been lost today to an unprecedented extent. This is something we are all very concerned about,” he said.