No US base says Blake, as US, UN diplomats visit Male

The US has reiterated that it has no intention to establish a base or military presence in the Maldives, after a leaked Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two countries’ militaries sparked local speculation in April.

Former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, now Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake, told the Press Trust of India that the agreement referred to joint military exercises and not a future base-building endeavor.

“We do not have any plans to have a military presence in Maldives,” Blake said, echoing an earlier statement from the US Embassy in Colombo.

“As I said, we have exercise programs very frequently and we anticipate that those would continue. But we do not anticipate any permanent military presence. Absolutely no bases of any kind,” Blake said.

“I want to reassure everybody that this SOFA does not imply some new uptick in military co-operation or certainly does not apply any new military presence. It would just be to support our ongoing activities,” he said.

A recently leaked draft of the SOFA, obtained by Maldivian current affairs blog DhivehiSitee, extensively outlines  provisions and immunities for US personnel and contractors in the Maldives, and mentions both ‘Agreed Facilities and Areas’ – detailed in a separate and unreleased ‘annex A’ – and all rights “that are necessary for their use, operation, defense or control, including the right to undertake new construction works and make alterations and improvements.”

However Blake and the US Embassy in Colombo maintained that the SOFA was a standard agreement for joint military exercises of which the US had signed more than 100 with countries around the world.

“I haven’t seen the draft agreement. So I can’t comment. But we are in the process of negotiating one now. These are standard text round the world, nothing very secret about them,” Blake told PTI.

We have status of forces agreements with more than 100 nations around the world. And these are basically agreements we have with partners where we have significant military activities, typically exercises,” he said.

“So for example, with Maldives we have Coconut Grove, which is an annual marine exercise. So the status of forces agreement helps to provides framework for those kinds of cooperative activities. They are desirable things to have. But it does not in any way signify an expansion of our military presence or some major new development in US-Maldivian military co-operation. It’s simply more of a framework to provide for [ongoing] co-operation,” Blake said.

He also revealed the US would be announcing a “quite substantial program” to help provide for free and fair elections in September.

“For example, we will be implementing civic and broader education program in several of the voter areas, we would helping with the dispute resolution, training for community leaders, we would be training staff at the election complaint bureaus, we will be doing training on social media and how to do social media to encourage voter registration,” Blake said.
“We would be doing some training for the Maldivian police service on election law and we would be doing capacity building for community based organizations, particularly about voter education and voter registration,” he added.

US, UN diplomats visit Male

US Ambassador Michele Sison and UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez Taranco are currently visiting the Maldives and have met with key political and civil society leaders ahead of the September 7 elections.

Speaking at an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally, former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that he had met with both, who “agreed that foregoing an investigation of the senior officers among the police and military who were involved in the events of February 7, 2012 would not be a good thing either for Maldivian democracy, rule of law or the upcoming election,” Nasheed told the crowd of MDP supporters.

He added that progress towards stability and fair elections would be forestalled by the lack of such an investigation.

“We are not asking for an investigation of all police and army officers. We are talking about a few people. About 10 or 12 people,” he said.

Nasheed expressed confidence that “criminal investigations” would take place into unlawful acts or criminal offences committed by mutinying police and military officers on February 7, 2012.

A US Embassy Spokesperson confirmed to Minivan News that Ambassador Sison was visit the Maldives and had met with Nasheed “as part of our normal bilateral relationship, to meet with government and civil society leaders as well as visit US Embassy initiatives such as our Access English language microscholarship program. She arrived yesterday and will depart today.”

During her meeting with Nasheed, “Ambassador Sison reiterated her support for the implementation of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report and its recommendations, including investigations into allegations of abuse.”

Nasheed informed a previous US delegation on January 31, consisting of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State James Moore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Vikram Singh and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jane Zimmerman, that the government had made no move towards acting on the recommendations made in the report, which included holding police accountable for widely videoed brutality surrounding what it termed a legitimate transfer of power in February 2012.

Meanwhile yesterday (May 8, 2013) the Prosecutor General filed the first charges against two police officers for allegedly assaulting MDP MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik and Mariya Ahmed Didi on February 8, 2012 during the brutal police crackdown.

Local media identified the accused as Mohamed Waheed from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and Ibrahim Faisal from Machangolhi Rausha of Male’.


Clear and visible action must be taken in cases of human rights violations: Blake

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake on Wednesday met with President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, former President Mohamed Nasheed and a number of civil society organisations.

“In all of my meetings today with the leaders, I stressed the importance of all parties working together to develop and act on the needed legislation on issues of reform, to increase capacity of the judiciary, the security services and independent institutions like the Police Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission,” Blake said at a press briefing held at Traders Hotel.

Blake told media that during his meeting with the president, he had emphasised the importance of ensuring security services acted in accordance with international standards and to do everything they can to respect human rights.

He added that all parties should work to promote dialogue and cooperation so that they could together strengthen Maldivian democracy and prepare for elections in the coming year.

Blake said that the while US would be extending support to the security services to strengthen build their capacity, a lot of importance would be given to the issue of human rights through any training provided by the US.

Stating that the CNI report, which was released in August, has indicated that there was a lot more work that needed to be done, he said “I was pleased that everybody I talked to today understands the need to implement those recommendations (in the CNI report) and welcomes it”.

Blake confirmed that the US would stay closely engaged and would assist in the implementation of many of the recommendations put forward in the CNI report.

Although Blake claimed that all leaders had pledged to implement the CNI’s recommendations, he declined from commenting on the government’s stand regarding the recommended action against what the report states to be “acts of police brutality which occurred on 6th, 7th and 8th February.”

“Let me tell you what I said. We take all allegations of human rights violations very seriously. We urge that the government investigate those [allegations] in a credible manner. And we think that there needs to be clear and visible disciplinary action taken if there is evidence of wrongdoing found,” Blake said in response to the question posed by Minivan News.

In a press conference held after the release of the report, the Minister of Home Affairs has said that the only individual the government would take action against with reference to the CNI report was Former President Nasheed.

Maldivian Democratic Party MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the party welcomed the support from the international community, particularly in supporting what he claimed were two of the liberal values it currently advocated for.

“In our way forward strategy, we are calling for three specific things. We welcome this support for two of those liberal values; action against human rights violations and early elections. There is one more value though, and that is the issue of the opposition parties PPM and DRP being in government,” Hamid told Minivan News today.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad was not responding to calls at the time of press.


US Assistant Secretary Blake claims political stalemate can be solved through dialogue

United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake, has urged the Maldives’ deadlocked executive and opposition-majority parliament to work “collaboratively together to end the current political impasse.”

Speaking to the Maldivian press in the American corner of the National Library after a day of meetings with government, opposition and parliamentary figures, Blake suggested it was ”time for all sides to put aside narrow partisan differences so they can resume work to serve the people, and restore confidence in the public institutions of the country.”

The former ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives claimed the current political crisis facing the Maldives “is one that is familiar to many democracies – the president represents one party while the opposition controls the parliament.”

“I told President Nasheed and [DRP leader] Mr Ahmed Thasmeen Ali that there is really only one way out – both sides must be open to dialogue and compromise. I’m very confident that both sides are capable of that,” Blake said, adding that this had been proved during the drafting of the constitution in 2007-2008.

“A continued stalemate is in no one’s interest. There is a risk of further violence and that in turn will impact tourism and aggravate the economic challenges the Maldives faces. The people really want to see their politicians work together to deal with some of the big challenges the country is facing,” he said.

Blake observed that it was also “very important” for the government to work in accordance with the rule of law, and suggesting President Nasheed either charge detained People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen, who has been accused of corruption and treason, or release him from his ‘protective custody’ on the Presidential Retreat at Aarah.

Blake implied he was aware of challenges facing the judiciary and noted that there were “some very important steps to be taken in the near future regarding the Supreme Court nominees and the continuation of their terms”, but said this was “just one more reason for the government to work together with the opposition.”

Meanwhile at an opposition coalition press conference earlier this week, Thasmeen and Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim announced that the opposition front was ready and willing to engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve the political deadlock.

However, said Thasmeen, the government’s actions were “worsening the situation” and the controversial detention of Yameen was not conducive to peaceful dialogue.

“As you know, leader of the People’s Alliance Abdullah Yameen is under military custody,” he said. “This is unacceptable. We are seeing that there is no rule of law in the country anymore.”

Alleging that Yameen’s detention was illegal and “outside the bounds of law”, Thasmeen added that the opposition coalition did not believe parliament sittings could be held in the absence of the Mulaku MP.

Yameen’s detention was the “essence” of the present deadlock as the government had “not followed due process”.

Gasim reiterated the opposition’s coalition desire for “a just solution” to the current political crisis and urged the government to “immediately release Abdulla Yameen” and consider the importance of allowing the People’s Alliance leader to participate in the talks.

The DRP parliamentary group leader told press that the unified parties had undertaken “broad” diplomatic efforts to inform foreign embassies, governments and international agencies of the situation in the Maldives and seek assistance and support.

“I went to Ceylon about a week ago, met embassy officials, informed them of the situation and asked for assistance,” he said, adding that the opposition coalition was working with the UN, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Commonwealth.

Thasmeen claimed that the concern expressed by the international community following the recent unrest was “unprecedented”.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Leader Hassan Saeed is meanwhile lobbying for international support in the UK.

On the opposition coalition’s nightly protests outside the DRP office, Thasmeen said the party was forced to “mobilise our supporters” due to the dangers posed by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party activists’ “vigilante justice”.

Gasim joined the DRP leader to condemn “calls for people to be killed” and protest gatherings outside judges’ residences.

The opposition leaders also revealed that talks mediated by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed.

While Speaker Abdulla Shahid yesterday announced that sittings would be canceled “indefinitely” following the MNDF refusal to escort MP Yameen to parliament this week, a statement issued by parliament today welcomes the inception of talks between the government and opposition parties.

It adds that although the coming week included national holidays on the occasion of Independence Day on July 26, the Speaker hoped political parties would be able to “establish an environment” for the parliament to function.

“After the hoped-for talks, I intend to hold a Majlis sitting on August 1, 2010,” it reads.

President Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile told press yesterday that he hoped all parties, “especially MDP and DRP,” will be able to come to the negotiating table and resolve the dispute peacefully.

Asked about MP Yameen’s continued detention, Nasheed acknowledged that “nobody could argue that for anyone to remain in custody while peace is to be achieved is the right away.”

While foreign mediators were needed in some cases, said Nasheed, most foreign parties were not prepared to “stay for the long haul” but rather desired credit for their role.

“Nothing can be solved in one sitting,” he said. “I feel that a Maldivian should be the mediator…and foreign parties could talk to the local mediator. In any case, the Commonwealth is saying they are ready, the European Union is saying they too are ready, the UN is ready, four friendly nations are saying they ready. So now I don’t know who to ask.”