No threat to Maldivians in Srilanka, assures Sri Lankan foreign minister

Sri Lankan minister for External Affairs G.L. Peiris has assured that there is no threat to Maldivians residing in his country from ongoing conflicts between Muslims and Buddhists.

Speaking during the official state visit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Peiris said that the “happy and contented” Maldivian community living in Sri Lanka mostly reside in the southern parts of the country, far away from the zone of conflict.

“There is absolutely no problem in that area,” he said, adding that the conflict was going on in a very narrow area of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s two-day state visit is the first official visit of a foreign leader since President Yameen’s election, and has seen agreements signed related to health, investment, and search and rescue services.

Maldivian Foreign Minister Dhunya Maumoon – speaking at today’s press conference in Kurumba resort – said that the Maldivian government appreciated the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of the the 9,400 citizens in the Maldives.

“Not that there are no serious issues,” she said. “But the media sometimes sensationalise these issues.”

On June 16, 2014, reports emerged that hard-line Buddhists hurled gasoline bombs and looted homes and businesses during attacks in several Muslim towns in southwestern Sri Lanka, killing three Muslims and seriously wounding more than 50 people.

Dunya said that the Maldivian embassy in Sri Lanka was closely monitoring the situation on a daily basis. She also revealed that land in the Maldivian capital had been granted for Sri Lanka to set up a new diplomatic premises.

Following Rajapaksa’s arrival yesterday, official bilateral talks were held between the two governments as well as a private meeting between the two heads of state. A special banquet in honour of the Sri Lankan president and first lady was held at Kurumba yesterday evening.

Dunya today noted the close personal links between the two nations with Sri Lankan expatriate workers greatly assisting the Maldivian economy while more than 80,000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka in 2012.

“We recognise and applaud the tremendous post-conflict reconstruction efforts of the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that the Sri Lankan Government and its people can address and overcome the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation,” said the foreign minister.

Details of the health MoU were also revealed yesterday, with three specialists per year travelling to the Maldives as well as places for five Maldivian students to study medicine in Sri Lanka.

“Maldivians have been long standing consumers of the excellent education and health services in Sri Lanka. Under the agreement signed yesterday, the Maldives looks forward to further enhancing cooperation in the health sector, including in investing in human resources, recruitment of medical doctors and health professionals, and procurement of pharmaceuticals,” she added.

External Affairs Minister Peiris told press today that the agreements reached would have positive practical results for both nations, in particular new agreements on investment.

Trade between the two states grew by 40 percent last year, said Peiris, currently amounting to US$76 million – a figure he described as “satisfactory” with room for improvement.

“Major Sri Lankan investors are investing in the Maldives in a big way, particularly in tourism infrastructure,” he continued.

As part of today’s trip, a networking session was held in Malé for Sri Lanka’s business delegation, with Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb and Economic Development Minister Mohamed Saeed revealing details of investment opportunities in the Maldives.

Asked about discussions on Sri Lankan fishermen’s access to the travel through the Maldives’ territorial waters, Peiris said that such close allies had no need to hold official discussions “formally” about the right of innocent passage.

President Yameen had promised to explore during his corresponding trip to Sri Lanka in January, during which MoUs were signed regarding combating transnational crime , vocational training, and sports cooperation.


Custom seize two men carrying books about Christianity

Customs officials at the Male’ Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on Thursday seized 11 books about Christianity, typed in Dhivehi, from a Bangladeshi expatriate who came to the Maldives via Sri Lanka.

Speaking with the press last Thursday inside the Customs Building, Chief Customs Officer Ahmed Samah identified the Bangladeshi expat as Jathish Bisvas, 44.

Samah said the 44 year-old man had arrived to the Maldives on a  tourist visa and that it was the first time he visited Maldives.

According to Samah, customs officials were suspicious that the expat who had tried to bring the banned items into Maldives had links with a person in Male’. Samah said the Bangladeshi man had made a booking with a hotel in Male’ but did could not identify which hotel it was.

Samah said later the same day a Maldivian national was caught with similar books, after arriving to the Maldives from Sri Lanka.

The books he brought were not typed in Dhivehi, according to Samah.

Furthermore, Samah said it was highly possible that a Maldivian was behind the illegal smuggling operation given the quality of the Dhivehi language used to type the book. He also said it was a “very serious case if a Maldivian is behind this.”

He told the press that it was difficult to identify or provide further details about the suspected Maldivian man.

The pair have been handed over to police and customs and police are conducting a joint investigation into the case.

According to the Maldives Religious Unity Regulations, it is illegal in the Maldives to propagate any faith other than Islam or to engage in any effort to convert anyone to any religion other than Islam. It is also illegal to display in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles.

It is also illegal in the Maldives to carry or display in public books on religions (other than Islam) and books and writings that promote and propagate other religions, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.

Violation of the Religious Unity Act is subject to two to five years in prison and fines up to MVR 20,000 (US$1300).


Police arrest suspected prostitutes inside Shaaha Alternative Medical Centre

Police last night raided Shaaha Alternative Medical Centre in Maafannu around 11:00pm, and arrested three Thai women for suspected prostitution.

Three Maldivian men and a Sri Lankan man, also inside Shaaha Alternative Medical Centre, were arrested along with the three Thai women.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police raided the business after receiving an intelligence report that sexual activities were being conducted there.

‘’After police raided it they saw it was a place  used for sexual activities,’’ Haneef said, adding that police have now closed down the business.

He said that materials used to conduct such activities were discovered inside Shaaha Alternative Medical Centre.

“[Those arrested] have not been summoned to court yet, but they will be as soon we finish taking their statements,’’ he added.

In April police arrested two Thai women and two local men on prostitution charges after raiding a Male’-based business called ‘Maldivian Care’.

In March Police arrested five Thai nationals and three male Maldivians inside ‘Herbal Beauty Salon’, located on the second floor of Maafannu Sherrif.

Local media reported that this was the ninth business closed by police on charges of prostitution since President Dr Waheed Hassan Manik came to power.


Two drunk Maldivians arrested in Colombo for harassment during Sri Lankan Airlines flight

Two Maldivians were arrested at Colombo Airport after they boarded a Sri Lankan Airlines flight drunk and violently harassed passengers and cabin crew during the flight, reports Sri Lanka’s ‘Daily Mirror’ newspaper.

Sri Lankan police told the paper that the two Maldivians were under the influence of liquor and were apprehended by the Katunayake police for behaving in an unruly manner.

“The two suspects acted violently, harassing the passengers and crew following the flight’s departure from Bangkok late last night,” the paper reported. “Soon after the landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake, the two suspects were taken into police custody and they were to be produced before the Magistrate shortly.”

Maldivian newspaper ‘Haveeru’ has also reported the same incident and identified the pair as Hanif Mushaf and Washeed Ibrahim.

Haveeru quoted a senior Sri Lankan police officer as saying that the two Maldivian nationals tried to manhandle the cabin crew and passengers.

The cabin crew reportedly warned the two Maldivians to calm down, the paper reported.

Maldives Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that he had heard about the incident through the media but could not yet confirm the arrest.

First Secretary at the Maldivian Embassy in Srilanka Ahmed Mujthaba was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

The Sri Lankan Airlines office in Male’ was closed for the public holiday.


Mosque, SAARC monument vandalised in Addu

Sri Lanka’s SAARC monument has suffered further vandalism and a mosque door was damaged in an ongoing spate of vandalism in Addu City.

On his own website, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari claimed that the attack on the mosque was in retaliation for the vandalism of the Sri Lankan statue, which protesters in Addu have criticised as idolatrous. Earlier last week, Pakistan’s monument was set ablaze and later stolen.

Bari referred to the Quran 6:108, which reads “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah , lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.”

Bari said he told the state broadcaster MNBC that as the monuments were gifted by neighbouring countries, bilateral relations should be considered for the removal of the offending monuments.

“Therefore, this can be solved by talking to the nations that erected [the monuments] and taking them down with their cooperation,” he wrote, adding that he had asked the Foreign Ministry, President’s Office, the Addu City Council and police to discuss the matter with the embassies.

In his interview with MNBC One, Bari said that citizens taking the law into their own hands was not the solution.

In an earlier post on his website, Bari revealed that he had suggested to the Pakistani High Commissioner that the “peaceful and proper way” to resolve the issue was for Pakistan to remove the monument.

The High Commissioner had assured him that Pakistan would do so after the summit was over, Bari wrote.

Bari has maintained that the engravings of pagan symbols on the Pakistani monument are unlawful under the Contraband Act, Religious Unity Act and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, and should not be displayed publicly in the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the door to a cupboard containing a sound system in a mosque was reported vandalised.

Abdulla Sodiq, Mayor of Addu City, disputed that the mosque had been damaged in retaliation for damage to Sri Lanka’s lion statue, as claimed by Bari.

”I heard the media reports and sought clarification on the incident, and found out that the door to the cupboard containing the mosque’s sound system was damaged with the intention of stealing the microphone and sound system,” he said. ”It is very common in all parts of the Maldives.”

He claimed Dr Bari may have related the two incidents because he had been misled by whomever he had received the information from.

The SAARC monument was damaged on Thursday morning around 1:00-2:00am, Sodiq said, with the face of the statue being smashed.

He said that the lion was the national symbol of Sri Lanka and was not an idol of worship. Police are investigating both incidents.

Deputy Sri Lankan High Commissioner Shaanthi Sudusinghe meanwhile told Minivan News that the Maldivian government had said it would repair and relocate the monuments from Addu City to the convention centre, where they could be given security.

“There is not much we can do,” she said. “This was a gift to the Maldives and it is up to them to look after it. If it is repaired and relocated we will be satisfied.”


MP Musthafa to submit resolution against maritime agreement with Sri Lanka

MP Mohamed Musthafa of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has demanded the government withdraw a maritime agreement with the Sri Lankan government – an agreement to allow Sri Lankan vessels passage through Maldivian waters to to the Arabian sea – or face a binding resolution from parliament that will force the government to invalidate the agreement.

“The agreement is for opening Maldivian waters for Sri Lankan fisherman to steal our fish in Maldivian [territorial] waters,” Musthafa claimed. “The Sri Lankan government knows that the Maldivian waters are rich in fish and has many fishing points, that is why they have made this agreement.”

Musthafa said that Sri Lankan vessels would not normally have the fuel capacity to reach Arabian waters.

“Their intention is to steal our fish, but I cannot just stand aside and watch while they take away our fish, which is the only source of natural resource we have in abundance,” he said. “It is a right that has to be preserved for future generations.”

In response to reports in the Sri Lankan media that an agreement had been signed, Fisheries Minister Dr Ibrahim Didi told local media today that no such agreement had been signed.

However Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair confirmed to newspaper Haveeru that a maritime agreement had been signed.

“The agreement abides by the International Maritime Law and no side can disregard that. If a vessel intends to make a crossing it has to inform the Sri Lankan Embassy in the Maldives 48 hours earlier to enable a lawful process,” Zuhair said.

Musthafa meanwhile said that he had confirmed the signing of the agreement.

“I cannot tell the media who signed it on behalf of the Maldives, but I can say that the Foreign Minister will be aware of this,” he said, adding that Dr Didi’s remarks were made because he was unaware of the agreement.

“I will see how the government decides to act upon this issue and will submit the resolution if it does not withdraw this agreement,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s Daily Mirror reported that the agreement will allow Sri Lankan fishing vessels to cross Maldivian territorial waters en route to the Arabian Sea.

Local news outlet Sun Online meanwhile reported the head of the DRP’s fishermen’s branch Ali Solih condemned the deal as “an insult to Maldivian fisherman” and “a dangerous deal,” since the Maldives did not have the capacity to monitor illegal fishing.


Foreign minister of Sri Lanka visits former president

Foreign minister of Sri Lanka Professor G L Peeris has visited former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s official residence Maafannu Aliwaage.

Leader of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and former foreign minister and leader of DRP women’s wing Dhunya Maumoon participated in the meeting.

Two senior officials of the Sri Lankan foreign ministry and MP Sajin Gunavarudhana also attended the meeting.