Court cancels hearing of suspects charged with terrorist attack on Gan police station

The Criminal Court has today cancelled scheduled hearings into the case against suspects charged with an arson attack on Addu City Gan Police Station on February 8, 2012.

The hearing was cancelled as the Prosecutor General’s Office was unable to summon the witnesses to court.

The suspects have been identified by the court as Ahmed Rasheed of Beachflat house in Maradhoo, Ali Rimaz of Liverpool house in Maradhoo, Hussein Zuhair of Heaven in Hithadhoo and Hassan Naeem of Sunshine in Hithadhoo.

In August 2012, terrorism charges were laid against over 40 individuals accused of setting the Seenu Gan police station on fire, including Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed and Addu City Councillor Ahmed Mirzadh.

On 10 November 2014, eight police officers testified at the Criminal Court against the accused.


Gan Council fears “health disaster” after severe sewage spill

Laamu Atoll Gan Island Council has raised fears of an imminent “health disaster” following a severe sewage spill on the island.

The spill was caused by damage to pumps and septic tanks in the sewage treatment facility. Recent rains have spread the sewage throughout the island, Gan Council President Ahmed Salah told Minivan News today.

The council is trying to contain the sewage, but have received no help from any government office, Salah said.

“The pumps in the system are not working, and the [septic] tank is also damaged. So when sewage effluent gathers in the tank it overflows and spills out. But this has got worse with the rainy season, the waste is being carried across the island through the puddles. And sometimes it is overflowing from the toilets, leaving houses and rooms filled with waste,” he said.

The spill poses “enormous health risks,” Salah said. Exposure to sewage can cause several infections including gastroenteritis of the stomach and hepatitis.

“We have asked the hospital to be on alert for a medical situation, and we have also informed the Ministry of Health and other authorities. We told them we are facing great health risks here and we have asked them to take action,” he said.

According to the council similar incidents have occurred on the island during the rainy season. The 5,500 strong population is among the biggest in south central Maldives.

“It was the first thing we discussed in the new council as well. We informed the ministries, we even went to Malé to bring this to their attention. We wrote to the disaster management center, but no action has been taken yet,” Salah said.

The sewage system at fault is located at the new settlement of tsunami-displaced population that moved to Gan from Mundoo and Kalhaidhoo Islands in 2007.

The sewerage project was funded and implemented by the International Federation of Red Cross Societies (IFRC) as part of their tsunami recovery work. After the project was completed, it was handed over to the government of Maldives.

Salah said no one has taken ownership of the system since it was handed over and said he believed the spill had taken place due to lack of maintenance.

“No one took the responsibility for managing it. The council doesn’t have the financial capacity to handle it, and without any ownership and repair it eventually broke down. We have discussed the issue with Fenaka [state-owned utility corporation] as well, but they won’t take charge until the system fully repaired. Their estimated cost for repairing it is above MVR1 million (US$ 64,850),” he said.

The council is now trying to manage the situation by using a mobile tank called bowser to drain the waste into the sea. The bowser was donated as part of the sewage system.

“It [the bowser] has a very small tank, even with 20-30 rounds we are unable to drain it to a level where people can use the toilet. We are trying to find a way to control the situation even if it is by pumping it all in to the sea,” he said noting that some households are not using the toilet.

When the council approached the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC) for a solution, the office said they could not offer any help as the sewage spill cannot be considered a disaster.

Speaking to Minivan News today, an NDMC official confirmed that the situation cannot be considered a disaster as it had developed gradually. The NDMC said the sewage project was the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing.

However, the Housing Ministry has said the Ministry of Environment and Energy was responsible for the project. The Environment Ministry was unable to comment on the issue at the time of publication.

MVR85 million sanitation facility is being built on Gan Island for areas that do not have a sewage system with assistance from the French government.

Salah said the council has proposed to join the old and new systems, but experts have said the task is impossible as the two systems are incompatible.


Presidential elections bring a chance to start afresh: Economist

Sipping beer and staring at the ocean, tourists on Addu atoll at the southern tip of the Maldives usually ponder weighty questions such as whether to strap on a snorkel or sunbathe on the pristine beaches. An alternative exists: a political safari on the equatorial islands that bob up from the Indian Ocean, reports The Economist.

On the island of Gan, once home to a British military base, the police station is a blackened mess of glass and twisted pipes. Drive on beyond coconut trees and moored yachts and you find the burned wreck of a courthouse. Like other smashed official buildings, it is daubed with abusive graffiti.

Rioters struck in February last year, furious at the ousting of the country’s first directly elected president, Mohamed Nasheed. He, not unreasonably, called it a coup, having resigned under threat of violence. His immediate sin was ordering the arrest of a judge close to politically powerful families.

A new democracy, born with a fresh constitution in 2008, seemed about to die. Yet the evidence from the Maldives, where politicians campaign by speedboat, is that it struggles gamely on. Those who forced Mr Nasheed’s resignation have honoured the constitution and announced they are sticking to the timetable for presidential polls on September 7th, when voters will get a second chance. Parliamentary elections follow next year.

Rocking on a garden swing among coral houses on Addu, the slim ex-president is sure he will soon be back in office. “Statistics and the smiles of the people” suggest victory, he says. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says it has identified that over half the 240,000 registered voters will back him.

Mr Nasheed’s overthrow and subsequent harassment appear to have boosted his popularity. Foreign pressure kept him out of jail. As speakers blare out his party tunes, he says: “Somehow the country rose up in yellow,” his party colour. Voters perhaps also credit him for new pensions, social housing and cheaper health care brought in while he was in office.

It helps that his core supporters, the young, predominate among the population of 350,000: the median age is just 26. Politics is fiercely and widely debated on social media, where the MDP is adept. His party, advised by Britain’s Conservatives, looks professional. Recent local elections suggest strength in a heavily urban population: in Male, the crowded capital, and Addu, the emerging second city.

Full story


Minor arrested in connection with July murder of 31 year-old man

Police have arrested a minor in connection with the murder of Ahmed Nizar, 31, of Woodland House in Gan, Laamu Atoll, who was killed on July 14, 2013.

In a statement issued today police said the minor was arrested on Saturday August 10 after an arrest warrant was obtained from the court.

Police had previously arrested five persons in connection with the case.

On July 15 police arrested a 21 year-old man while a 22 year-old man was arrested on July 17. Two other men aged 26 and 22 were also arrested in connection with the case.

Police said the court had extended the suspects’ pretrial detention period to 15 days and they have been brought Male’ for investigation.

The Police Serious and Organized Crime Department and Laamu Gan Police Station are investigating the case, police said.

Ahmed Nizar was attacked in the early hours of July 14 while he was travelling to Gan from Kahdhoo, after receiving some football jerseys from the Kahdhoo Post Office.

At the time police said the investigation had revealed that Nizar was attacked with wooden planks and iron bars. Police recovered the murder weapons.

A special team of police were deployed to Gan to investigate the murder. Police said the victim had no record of criminal activity.

The attack on Nizar is the second murder on Gan this year. On March 14 , a 51 year-old man was attacked with an axe while he was sleeping in a house. He died shortly after the attack having suffered serious head injuries.


PG presses terrorism charges against alleged Sultan Park bomber

The Prosecutor General (PG)’s office has pressed terrorism charges against Abdul Latheef Ibrahim, of Love Side house on the island of Gan in Laamu Atoll, for his alleged involvement in detonating a home-made IED (improvised explosive device) outside Sultan Park in September 2007.

Local media reported the first hearing of the case today, during which Abdul Latheef told the court that he wished to know the evidence against him, and requested time to appoint a lawyer.

The judge told Abdul Latheef that the state would produce evidence after he appointed a lawyer, and concluded the hearing.

On August 8, 2012, Abdul Latheef was arrested upon his arrival to the Maldives on a flight from Pakistan. He was one of 16 men against whom terrorism charges had been filed in relation to the bombing. Ten of these men fled the country, while three were sentenced to an initial 15 years before having their sentences commuted to three year suspended sentences.

The bomb blast in Sultan Park – a tourist attraction in the capital located in front of the Islamic Centre – consisted of a washing machine motor attached to a gas cylinder, and was triggered using a mobile phone.

The attack injured 12 tourists, including eight from China, two from Britain and two from Japan. The incident received widespread publicity around the world, damaging the country’s image as a luxury tourism destination.

The attack meanwhile prompted the authorities to declare a state of emergency and arrest 12 suspects within 48 hours.

Three men – Mohamed Sobah, 19, Moosa Inaz, 21, and Ahmed Naseer, 20 – were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in December 2007 after they confessed to the crime.

In August 2010, the former administration commuted the sentences of Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah from incarceration to three year suspended sentences under observation.

The bomb blast was the first bombing incident in the country.


Group murders 31 year-old man on Gan in Laamu Atoll

A group of men have murdered a 31 year-old man on the island of Gan in Laamu Atoll.

The police issued a statement today identifying the victim as Ahmed Nizar of Woodland house on Gan.

Police said the case was reported at 2:22am last night. Police attended the scene and discovered the body, which was at Gan Regional Hospital.

According to police, the doctors pronounced Nizar dead at the time he was brought to the hospital.

Police reported that Nizar was attacked while he was travelling to Gan from Kahdhoo, after receiving some football jerseys from the Kahdhoo Post Office.

The police investigation had revealed that Nizar was attacked with wooden planks and iron bars, police said, stating that they had recovered the murder weapons.

A special team of police have been deployed to Gan to investigate the murder. Police said the victim had no record of criminal activity.

A police spokesperson confirmed that one man had been arrested in connection with the murder.

Gan Island Councilor Abdulla Sulaiman told Minivan News that Nizar was attacked while he was in the company of two of his friends.

“He was with two other friends and as they reached an uninhabited area along Mukuri Magu, five men, three of whom were wearing masks, appeared on the road and attacked him,’’ Abdulla said. “They hit him in the head with an iron bar and he fell to the ground, and then they hit him a second time.”

Sulaiman said one of the five attackers then approached the victim, realised Nizar was not the person they had intended to attack, and said “Hey, I am really sorry bro.”

Sulaiman alleged the attack was related to the theft of a 20 litre bottle of homemade alcohol brewed on the island.

The attack on Nizar is the second murder on Gan this year. On March 14 this year, a 51 year-old man was attacked with an axe while he was sleeping in a house. He died shortly after the attack having suffered serious head injuries.

A source from the island at the time alleged the man was attacked for having an affair with a woman living in the house he was sleeping in.


51 year-old man dies in hospital after axe attack

A 51 year-old man has died in hospital after he was attacked with an axe while sleeping in a house on Gan in Laamu Atoll on Tuesday night.

Mohamed Hassan failed to survive the injuries he received during the attack and died on Wednesday evening.

IGMH Spokesperson Zeenath Ali Habeeb told local media that the man died last night at 11:25 am while being treated in the intensive care unit.

Mohamed Hassan was hit on the right side of his head which caused serious injuries to his skull, and his condition was too critical to transfer him abroad for further treatment.

The Laamu Gan Regional Hospital Manager told local media that the victim’s nose and ears were bleeding continuously when he was admitted to hospital.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police have arrested one person in connection with the case. Haneef said that the victim was hit in the head with a sharp object.

‘’The investigation is ongoing and has become more serious now because the victim has died,’’ he said.

According to a source from the island, the man who was attacked was having an affair with a woman living in the house he was sleeping in.

The source said one of the woman’s sons was arrested in connection with the case.


Defence Minister signs military aid agreement with China

Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim signed a military aid agreement with Chinese National Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie during his official five-day visit that concluded yesterday (December 15).

Following official talks between the defence ministers, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported Nazim as assuring Guanglie that the Maldives was “willing to cement relations between the two countries and their militaries.”

General Liang reportedly said China would “continue to develop friendly, cooperative and mutually beneficial relations with the Maldives under the principle of building a good-neighbourly relationship and non-interference in internal affairs”.

“China has always positively developed its military relations with the Maldives and hopes to enhance communication and cooperation, promote the construction of both militaries, and safeguard regional peace and stability,” he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

According to a press release by the Ministry of Defence and National Security, Defence Minister Nazim held talks with his Chinese counterpart on December 11, which focused on Chinese military assistance to develop the Maldivian military.

The agreement to develop military ties and provide free Chinese aid to the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) was signed at the meeting, the press release stated.

Defence Minister Nazim also met the Vice Chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, Xu Qiliang, and discussed strengthening Sino-Maldives military ties.

Defence Minister Nazim in ChinaDuring his visit, Nazim visited the Chinese National Defence University to discuss securing education opportunities and toured the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Submarine Academy as well as the PLA Navy’s North Fleet.

The Defence Minister met MNDF coastguard personnel training at the submarine academy, the press release noted.

Nazim’s official visit to China followed the government’s abrupt termination of a 25-year concession agreement with Indian infrastructure giant GMR to modernise and manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

The move fuelled speculation in the Indian media of a Chinese role in the government’s decision to void the agreement and evict the GMR-led consortium.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has however dismissed suggestions that China urged the Maldives to push out the Indian company.

“The only significant cooperation we have with China at this time is through development assistance… like building the museum, housing projects. I don’t think India should worry about it at all,” Waheed was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

Meanwhile, India’s The Economic Times reported yesterday that China’s strengthening of ties with the Maldives may be part of its larger plans of dominating strategically-important sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, “according to an assessment of the Indian intelligence agencies.”

“Beijing is reportedly wooing Male’ to pre-empt a US move to set up a new military base in the Maldives’ southernmost island of Gan,” The Economic Times reported.

The paper also took note of recent statements by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suggesting that it was “natural for a country with such huge resources to come and help us.”

“China has been with us for 40 years,” Gayoom told Indian media last week.

In November 2011, China became the first non-SAARC nation to open an embassy in the Maldives.

AFP at the time reported Indian officials as expressing concern that it was “part of a Chinese policy to throw a ‘string of pearls’ – or a circle of influence – around India.”


Posted to Paradise: RAF Veterans remember Gan, part two

Part one of this series of recollections of RAF veterans stationed on Gan can be read here.

As I sit with a gin and tonic overlooking the blue lagoon at Equator Village, I try to imagine what Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II must have been thinking when in 1972 she visited what was then one of the most glamorous Royal Air Force base locations in the world – RAF Gan.

Back in the seventies well before the advent of resorts the Maldives was the scene for the ‘real jet set’ – the RAF Far East Air Force pilots who used the former RAF base as a layover location long before the advent of tourism to the region.

Enviably located south of the equator RAF Gan in Addu, was a staging post during the Second World War and continued to be a base for thousands of air force personnel through the cold war. It was handed back to the Maldivian government on March 29, 1976.

During its operational days, famous visitors landed at RAF Gan including the Queen, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. As well as attending to business, they were drawn to the perfect islands fringed by glorious azure blue lagoons and white sands.

They would stay at the Blue Lagoon Transit hotel on the base, and VIP/Officers’ accommodation known as Dhoogas, which has now the opened as a resort in its own right called Gan Island Club, located next door to the Equator Village resort (the former Sergeant’s mess).

Like many of the tourists today who visit the Equator Village resort, even the Queen must have been mesmerised by the perfect islands with lush tropical vegetation fringed with pure white beaches and an infinity view of an azure blue lagoon that is home to beautiful coral gardens teeming with tropical fish and baby reef sharks.

Terry Joint, an officer stationed at the airbase, recalls meeting Princess Anne who was “quite a beauty”. The pair chatted about spearfishing and he described her as charming and friendly: “Princess Anne said would have liked to have come out on a spearfishing trip with us but unfortunately she had to catch a plane back,” he reminisced.

Nowadays the island of Gan is home to two resort developments, the quintessentially English Equator Village resort and the Gan Island club (the officer’s mess).

Equator Village has resisted the urge to conform to the sleek lines of most resort chains, remaining a historic landmark.

Those in search of historical references can still find them among the station grounds. These remain almost unchanged, save a lick of paint from its service days. From the wicker furniture to the uniform blue doors, this three star resort has all the markings of the RAF Marham officers’ mess, with a better view and weather. I should know because I have also stayed there too.

An RAF legacy remains in former buildings and relics, bringing back military tourists – veterans who served here to visit the RAF memorial and reminisce about days gone by. There is a former NAAFI (commissary) and the Astra Cinema. The former RAF vehicle maintenance workshop is now maintained by the State Trading Organisation (STO) for its fleet of trucks.
The resort located near Gan airport, the former airfield, now used for VIP flight, Island Aviation transfers to the resort and international flights from Hong Kong and Gatwick.

In its service days there was a church on the base, which is now of course a mosque as Islam is the only religion allowed to be practiced in the Maldives by law.

Adduan’s grew up around the service personnel and some even became servicemen themselves. One Adduan recalls visiting the base as an 11-year old boy: “I used to visit the church to have tea and coffee with a relative who worked there. That was very unusual because as Muslims we were told we shouldn’t even look what’s was inside!” he recalled. “Upon visiting the resort recently, I was most surprised to see that the place is a mosque. I didn’t know it was facing Mecca.”

Back in the seventies the RAF provided a rich source for jobs in the area and at one time locals and airmen used to live side by side, employed as room boys, chefs, maintenance, and some were even trained to learn a trade. As such Adduans are broadly thankful to the RAF.

Hassan Najmy trained in the photographic department of the RAF and like many Adduans who worked closely with the Royal Air Force and quickly picked up the English language and qualifications.

“We will always be grateful to the RAF who gave us jobs and treated us like their own brothers,” said Hassan. “I spent many happy years with them and learned all I know today.”

Hassan joined the photographic section, not long after the Queen’s visit to the Maldives and RAF Gan in 1972.

“I joined photographic section when I was 18 and learned the trade, I really enjoyed the dark room training and studied for my Cambridge CSE certificate at the RAF Education Centre in Gan,” he said.

“I still remember buying my first Pentax SLR camera from the NAAFI store, a discounted store where you could get anything.”

Hassan was eyewitness to many historic events which make up the Maldives’ military history. As the president of the time’s official photographer, he captured the images of royal visitors to the base and impressed the president so much that he became the presidential palace’s official photographer.

According to the military personnel who served here, the island remains much the same as today as it did back then. Unlike their cousins in the north, Adduans are proud of the British influences.

At Equator Village hens run freely between the tropical foliage and rose gardens and the beach. There is also traditional afternoon tea and scones at 4:00pm, another relic from its service days as the sergeant’s mess. Equator Village feels like a home away from home.

Many industrious Adduans in fact helped to found the tourism industry in the capital of Male region following the RAFs departure. In 1972 the first resort in the Maldives, Kurumba, was founded by Mohamed Umar Maniku, and still runs today under Universal Enterprises.

Some Adduans say that some of the original furniture from the RAF was taken to Kurumba and remains in the resort’s presidential suite. Some original furniture still remaining includes the billiard table and darts board at the Equator resort for guests to enjoy.

Original framed photographs from the time, including of the Queen’s visit, are on display at the next door Gan Island Club, formerly the Dhoogas guest house, and the Blue Lagoon where Prince Charles frequented.

The RAF’s main mission was to install radio transmitters on the island of Hithadhoo to listen in and intercept intelligence from the East during the cold war.

Hithadhoo was first discovered by the Royal Navy and the fleet air arm in the 1940s. In those days supplies were ferried between the islands and nearby Sri Lanka (Ceylon as it was known then) by boat.

When it was handed it over to the RAF in the fifties, they established their base on the island of Gan and built a causeway linking all six islands, establishing a precedent in this geographically challenged country consisting of 99 per cent ocean – bases which became known as RAF Gan and RAF Hithadhoo respectively.

The RAF’s presence came to an end as the Cold War ended. In fact some say that RAF Gan’s cards were marked as soon as the “Royal Far East Air Force” (RFEAF) was disbanded in 1971.

The British decamped further south to Diego Garcia and then leased the land to the US, who still have a base there today. RAF Gan was handed back to the Maldivian government on March 29, 1976.

Hassan recalls it was a very sad day when the RAF left Maldives. Many “wept” as they saw off the servicemen who become friends as well as colleagues over the years. That bond remains today through social media pages on Facebook remembering life at Gan.

Hassan has recorded many historic events which make up the Maldives’ military history during his service, including profiling historical figures and royal visitors to the base. Some of his work can be viewed on a page maintained by veterans who served at Gan and Hithadhoo: RAF Gan Remembered.