A senior UN official on political affairs arrived in the Maldives Saturday in a bid to resuscitate talks between the government and opposition parties.
The UN office in the Maldives said in a statement that Tamrat Samuel, senior advisor to the UN’s department of political affairs, will seek to lay the groundwork “for substantive political party dialogue in the interest of attaining long-term political stability and rule of law in the Maldives.”
Faced with the threat of targeted sanctions and “punitive action” by the Commonwealth, President Abdulla Yameen invited opposition parties for talks in early February to resolve a year-long political crisis sparked by the jailing of former President Mohamed Nasheed and other high-profile politicians.
But the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ally Adhaalath Party have so far refused to engage in talks unless the government establishes “an atmosphere of trust” by releasing their respective leaders. The parties say the government had reneged on commitments made during negotiations in July last year.
Speaking at a press conference at the president’s office today, Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee – the government’s representative for the all-party talks – said that the government is open to discussing the possibility of involving former President Nasheed and jailed Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla in the talks.
Nasheed is presently in the UK after the government authorised a 30-day medical leave in January. Imran, who is serving a 12-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge, was transferred to house arrest on April 4.
The government had previously refused to accept “convicts” as representatives in the all-party talks.
Shainee went on to say that the president had invited the UN official “to play a mediatory role” in the talks.
“The special envoy will hold discussions with stakeholders to pave way for the creation of an environment conducive to political dialogue,” Shainee said. He added that “the government is open to discussion regarding all matters of concern and contention.”
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, MDP spokesman MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy firmly reiterated the party’s stance of not negotiating with the government until political prisoners are released.
“However, we will be holding scheduled talks with the UN official,” he said.
Shidhatha Shareef, head of the Adhaalath Party’s foreign relations committee, said “the party as always will meet and discuss with relevant international community representatives.”
However, she added that the party’s position on participating in the talks has not changed.
“We also would like political reconciliation and stability, but as of now, it is too early to say on what and how much we will compromise,” she said.
The UN office in Malé meanwhile described Samuel’s official visit as “a follow-up” one to the UN Assistant Secretary General Miroslav Jenča’s mission to the Maldives in February, during which the ASG assured the government of UN support for all-party talks.
According to the foreign ministry, the visiting UN delegation “will hold discussions with the government and other key stakeholders in the country to help to re-start the talks.”
Samuel is also scheduled to meet representatives of international organisations stationed in the Maldives as well as members of the Maldivian civil society.
Last week, the MDP told visiting Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Dr Josephine Ojiambo that the all-party talks are an “exercise in futility” unless jailed political leaders are freed.
“The MDP, in principle, welcomes political dialogue. However, the government has categorically failed to create an environment conducive to meaningful dialogue by: its refusal to release political prisoners, stepping up attacks on the media, and failing to give space for civil society or the political opposition,” the party said in a statement.
Following a meeting in late February, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group – which monitors member states’ observance of human rights and democracy – had called for inclusive dialogue and action to release detained political leaders.
The CMAG – comprised of a rotating group of foreign ministers from eight member states – is due to review the Maldives’ progress on April 21.
Yameen has sought the help of India, Malaysia and Pakistan to avoid action by the CMAG over the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders.