Bangladesh media reports SAARC summit uncertainty following regional unrest

Political unrest in the Maldives and Nepal during 2012 has set back preparations for the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bangladesh-based media has reported today.

According to The Daily Star newspaper, the next summit meeting for the heads of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives had been scheduled to be held in Kathmandu during May 2013.

However, the chances of meeting such a date are now alleged to be unlikely over reports that no preparatory work has been undertaken by Nepalese authorities.

Citing unnamed “diplomatic sources”, the Daily Star has claimed that the postponement of an inter-summit session of the organisation’s council of ministers by the Maldives – in its position of current SAARC Chair – had further set back Nepal’s own preparations.

“The Maldives, the current SAARC Chair, is also in serious political crisis following the alleged ouster of Mohamed Nasheed as president of the country in February last,” wrote the newspaper.

The inter-summit session is reported to have been required under the SAARC Charter to be held six months after the organisation’s previous summit in order to finalise the dates, venue, and agenda of its next meeting.

Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla and President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

The previous SAARC summit meeting was held back in Addu Atoll in November 2010.

During the summit, former President Mohamed Nasheed identified several key issues to be addressed including trade, transport, economic investment, security against piracy, climate change and good governance.


Retreat for leaders’ spouses held in Fuvamulah

A Maldivian musical on water and a cultural village perched high on the beach were the highlights of the spousal retreat held in Fuvamulah today.

Fuvamulah, co-host of the 17th SAARC summit along with Addu City, has been the venue of activities for the SAARC Festival since the start of November.

These have included a kite festival, bashi competition (a game played exclusively by women using a badminton racket and tennis balls), and the ‘Cricket 20Twenty Cup Tournament’ among seven SAARC member nations. Beach volleyball and futsal tournaments meanwhile took place in Addu City.

“We are very happy to be part of this SAARC summit as this will open Fuvamulah to the world. Our famed thundi (southern beach) and the beauty of this island will be visible for all to see” said Ali Zaeed, Fuvamulah Councillor, ahead of today’s events.

Fuvamulah is located in the south of Maldives near Addu City, which together makes up the Southern Province. Fuvamulah is both an atoll and an island and is geographically considered to be one of the most unique islands in the Maldives, with two fresh water lakes and beaches lined with black stones, white flat pebbles, white sand and rocks located on different sides of the island.

“Indian prime minister Mr Manmohan Singh’s wife and Sri Lankan president’s wife along with spouses of foreign ministers present…is expected to come to Fuvamulah in the afternoon tomorrow” said Zaid last week. Though preparations for the spousal retreat were in full swing during the week, Zaid expected the preparations to be completed on schedule.

The spouses flew into Fuvamulah on the day that the first scheduled flights started in the newly built domestic airport.

A musical

200 secondary students performed a welcome dance near the tarmac of the domestic airport. A rehearsal of the events took place on Tuesday with first lady Laila Ali in attendance.

The dance choreographed by Munko featured a traditional dance to the song ‘Rashu Vehi’ (Island environment). The song is the first three couplets of an old Fuvamulah poem extolling the virtues of the island and its uniqueness.

After arrival the spouses proceeded to the biggest lake in Fuvamulah ‘Bandaara Kulhi.’ A newly built platform offered a splendid view of the lake where a romantic Maldivian musical was displayed.

“Performers in 11 boats in traditional attire, will depict a love story, which will show a couple falling in love, the pain of separation, before finding each other again,” said Mifraah (Mifu) Abdul Muhaimin, Fuvamulah coordinator for the official event, speaking to Minivan News last week.

“Fuvamulah has been isolated for very long, so once the hero leaves, he can’t come back easily,” Mifu said.

Coordinating rowing boats for a performance was not an easy task, though the performers from all walks of life, and ages were very enthusiastic about the musical. Though the one thing they all have in common is that they know how to swim, essential for a performance over water.

The musical takes inspiration from the story of Dhonhiyala and Alifulhu, Maldivian equivalent of Romeo and Juliette.

The soundtrack was a fusion of Maldivian songs and old forms of poetry. Among them Raivaru, a form of poetry that takes place as a dialogue between two or more people and that was used in the past to woo prospective partners.

Apart from the hero and heroine, the performers on the other boats showcased Fuvamulah handicraft, like rope weaving, weaving thatch, and making kasabu (the neckline of traditional Maldivian garment made using gold stitches)

“We have made sure that we use traditional garments and authentic stuff for all the events,” said Mifu.

Cultural display

The southern beach of Fuvamulah was the last stop for the spouses. The wide beach famous for its beauty is made up of small flat white pebbles in contrast to the white sandy beaches commonly found in Maldives.

The cultural village is on the high end of the beach with eight thatch roof huts that depicts Maldivian life of yesteryears.

“We did a lot of research to get the authentic look of each hut,” said Ali Amir, who did the concept and design of the village. MNDF created the village based on a detailed sketch of the village. Research consisted of reading what little written account was available and in reference to oral history.

“We talked to elderly people in this island. This required a lot of patience as some of them are very old and sick in some cases, so we had to meet them at times convenient to them” said Amir.

The antique furnishings inside the huts, like ashi (bench beds), swings and a 200-year-old farivalhu (container decorated with lacquer work used to serve food) among others, were sourced from different houses in the island.

The village consists of hut of fisherman, farmer, blacksmith, island chief, edhuruge (house of the only teacher) and places like a boat building hut, a yam storage place and hut of a Vaaruveriyaa (governor from central government). The latter vaaruveriya was the person charged with governing individual islands for a brief time in history until Maldives became a republic in 1953.

“The sultan would send an edict to a person he chooses appointing him as the Vaaruveriya of that island” said Ali Didi, the consultant for the project and Fuvamulah island’s resident history expert.

From that moment the Vaaruveriyaa would take charge of the running of the affairs of the island and trade from the comfort of his own house. All produce of the island, be it vegetables or fruits from trees in islander’s own backyard, had to be presented to him.

“He would not have a fixed income, but would get to keep 1/10 of all items he trades,” Didi explained.

“Most of us live in a concrete jungle now, it’s a respite to go back to the days of the past, and see the simple life again” said Amir.

The retreat come to an end with evening tea served Shiranthi Wikremasinghe, soaking in the simplicity of Maldivian lifestyle in a cultural village in one of the most beautiful spots in a unique island atoll.


President Nasheed departs to Bhutan for SAARC summit

President Mohamed Nasheed and First Lady Laila Ali departed on an official visit to Bhutan yesterday morning to attend the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit.

The Summit of Heads of State and Heads of the Government of SAARC countries will be held in Thimphu, Bhutan on 28 and 29 April.

President Nasheed will also meet other SAARC country leaders to discuss bilateral relations and issues of regional interest.

Before his departure at the official jetty, President Nasheed said SAARC needed to play a more active role in addressing regional issues. He added he would work with other leaders of SAARC to strengthen and expand the role of the organisation in the region.

After their visit to Bhutan, the president and first lady will be going to China on an official visit start 1 May.