President Abdulla Yameen has thanked India and Pakistan for helping the Maldives avoid action by the Commonwealth over widely condemned human rights abuses, but has offered no indication his government is prepared to meet calls for reform.
Speaking on the northern island of Utheemu on Tuesday, Yameen said he had been very “anxious” when the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group met in London a week ago to discuss action on the Maldives.
“On that day, I was trying, in between the two podiums, to find a peaceful way out for the Maldives, to speak on the phone with the prime ministers of two of our large neighbours. I spoke with both Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers at length.
“They were very obliging … it was their representatives who spoke in our defence. There were some who attacked us. But we were saved because of the work done by both of our neighbourly powers,” he said.
The CMAG has issued a list of demands on Yameen, including initiating dialogue, releasing jailed opponents and enabling the return of exiles. Ministers also pledged to review the Maldives’ progress in April.
The president, however, described the CMAG’s decision not to place the Maldives on its formal agenda as an indication that “there are no major issues here.”
Commonwealth action will obstruct foreign aid, he went on, but insisted that he had no influence over the judiciary to secure freedom for jailed opponents.
“High-profile politicians have been detained. I am saddened by that. But none of them were arrested while they were praying at home,” he said.
“What aspect of human dignity has been lost? What are the weaknesses in the judiciary?”
Yameen went on to lambast his rivals, especially former President Mohamed Nasheed, currently in London on medical leave from prison, for seeking targeted sanctions on the Maldives.
“Come back and serve the Maldivian people. Give us advice on reform. When they [go abroad] and seek to damage the Maldives, I wont be the only one who suffers, but the whole of the Maldives. We depend on foreign aid for development,” he said.
The first meeting of the all-party talks is meanwhile scheduled to take place at 8:30pm tonight.
The opposition Maldivin Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party have refused to sit down unless the government frees their leaders.
AP’s Sheikh Imran Abdulla was handed a 12-year jail term just days after Yameen announced that he planned to initiate all-party talks. MDP’s Vice President Mohamed Shifaz was also arrested on Monday and remanded on a charge of disobeying orders.
Yameen only appears to be growing in confidence by the Commonwealth’s lack of action. He mocked calls for reform in an earlier speech on the same day, telling critics to present a list of people they considered to be above Maldivian laws.
The government had initiated talks with political parties in July last year, but dialogue failed when Nasheed, who had been transferred to house-imprisonment for the talks, was returned to jail.
Yameen’s regime went on to become mired in a historic corruption scandal, for which the president has sought to pin the blame solely on his former deputy’s shoulders.
He said on Utheemu: “Help me find the missing US$87million. That’s what needs to be done. Talking about this will not help. What has happened has happened, a shameful, dirty, low-grade act, so lets find that money.”