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Maldives crisis festers, India pushes for political deal

Male: With the crisis in the Maldives deepening as defiant former president Mohamed Nasheed alleged a coup, India has stepped up its outreach to all key political interlocutors in the archipelago nation to push a political deal that spurs the process of forming a broad-based national government of unity.

New Delhi has also stepped up diplomatic outreach and briefed the ambassadors of the P5 — the US, Britain, France, China and Russia — and Sri Lanka on its assessment of the unfolding crisis in the Maldives which it regards as “an internal political affair” of the Indian Ocean archipelago nation comprising around 1,200 scattered islands.

A team of senior officials of the external affairs ministry led by M. Ganapathi, secretary (West), reached the capital Male Friday afternoon and are in the process of meeting key political figures across the spectrum, government sources said in New Delhi.

“I have sent an envoy to Maldives to assess the situation,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters in New Delhi, adding that it was his sincere hope that the matter can be resolved through peaceful dialogue. “It will be our effort to use our influence in that direction,” he said.

The Indian team has already met Nasheed and conveyed that he should join in efforts to stabilise the situation. They are also expected to meet Maldives’s new president Mohammed Waheed Hassan and other important political leaders and impress upon them to expedite the process of a broad-based coalition government that could restore peace and stability to the island nation.

The Indian high commission in Male is also in constant situation with the rapidly evolving situation in the Maldives as Nasheed’s supporters took to the streets on the second consecutive day, demanding the restoration of democracy and calling for early elections.

In Male, Nasheed, surrounded by his supporters, also called for the immediate release of around 500 supporters arrested for allegedly burning down police stations and court houses during demonstrations on Wednesday, a day after he resigned amid a standoff between the executive and the judiciary and the police joining opposition protesters.

Nasheed has, however, claimed he was forced to resign “almost at gunpoint.” The new president has denied any coup attempt.

In talks with senior Maldives politicians, India’s effort will be to encourage a negotiated political settlement that helps the island country to return to stability as soon as possible.

Instability is bad for everyone, specially for a country that depends on tourism as a key driver of its economy, sources said. Maldives, known for its luxury island resorts, depends on 1 million tourists who come annually and bring in $1 billion, contributing over 60 percent of the country’s GDP.

With a Maldivian court issuing arrest warrant for Nasheed, which the new government has not acted on, India has urged the new president to ensure that Nasheed is not arrested or harmed in any way. “Nasshed is safe. We have been assured that he will not be harmed,” said sources.

India has, however, ruled out any military intervention in the present situation which it sees as “primarily an internal affair of the Maldives”.

The sources pointed out that unlike in 1988, when the then Rajiv Gandhi government sent troops to the Maldives at the request of then president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to prevent a coup externally induced by rogue elements from Sri Lanka, this time it’s an internal political affair and hence does not warrant military intervention.

Since the Feb 7 resignation of Nasheed, a former political prisoner and proactive human rights campaigner, India has taken the position that the present crisis in the island nation is an internal affair of the Maldives and should be resolved peacefully by the Maldivians themselves.

India is also of the view that the change of guard in the Maldives was not a “coup” but part of a constitutional transition of power.

With over 30,000 Indians residing in the Maldives, India is ready with a contingency plan to evacuate them if the violence on the streets spins out of control. “We are the nearest neighbour of Maldives. If there is any contingency, we are ready to help,” said the sources. India’s assessment is that the situation is relatively calm now and there does not seem to be any urgency for any contingency plan. “There is absolutely no basis for military intervention unless there is a legal basis for it,” said the sources.

On the diplomatic front, besides briefing the P5 ambassadors and Sri Lanka, India also plans to update SAARC countries on the situation in the Maldives and press for a democratic solution to the present impasse.

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