Confusion reigns over Faafu Atoll ‘sale’, Saudi King postponing Maldives visit

* Govt. claims Saudi Arabia will not be given freehold land


by Zacki Jabbar

Amidst differing reasons given for Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud postponing what would have been his first official visit to the Maldives on Saturday, the Abdulla Yameen government says that negotiations were on with Saudi investors and not the Kingdom, to develop Faafu Atoll on the lines of the French Riviera.

Foreign Minister Mohammed Asim said that King Salman’s visit had been postponed due to the high prevalence of swine flu in Male. But the Opposition claimed that it was due to security concerns, arising from a Saudi led military intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.The conflict has killed an estimated 10,000 civilians.

Maldives was to be the final stop in King Salman’s month long official Asian tour, that took him to Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, China and Japan.A support vessel from the Saudi Royal Navy with two helicopters and King Salman’s luxury yacht Al Salamah, arrived in the Maldives about ten days ago.Two resorts were also booked for the King and his entourage.

Responding to weeks of protests led by the Maldives United Opposition ( MUO) alleging that parts or the entire Faafu Atoll would be sold to Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman Al Saud , during King Salman’s visit, Co-Chair of the Cabinet’s Economic Council and Fisheries Minister Mohamed Shainee said that land would not be given on freehold basis to the Saudi Arabian government." But negotiations are continuing with Saudi businessman who would be willing to invest in the Faafu Atoll Development Project."

President Abdulla Yameen said earlier this month that the Saudi funded US$10 billion Faafu Atoll project, would be similar to mixed development projects in the French Riviera, with luxury residential units , tourist resorts and airports. He dismissed as baseless, Opposition accusations of corruption and lack of transparency in the project , which it said threatened Maldives sovereignty and independence.

Leading members of the Maldives United Opposition ( MUO) said that President Yameen should come clean over the "deal" and stop harassment of their supporters protesting against the alleged sale of Faafu Atoll, which comprises 13 Islands , of which only three are inhabit ed.

"Even those wearing T-Shirts with the words Faafu, were being arrested " , Ahmed Naseem, Foreign Minister in the former Nasheed government said, vowing not only to stop the "deal", but also topple Yameen from power. "The first step would be the no confidence motion against the Speaker, which is scheduled to be taken up in Parliament shortly."

Naseem noted that even former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had opposed the actions of his half brother President Yameen.

The Maldives, he observed was strategically located with cargo worth US$ 14 trillion passing its shores annually . " The sale of Faafu Atoll has become a regional issue."

Asked if the MUO had discussed the purported land sale, with India and Sri Lanka, Naseem said " No. They are as confused as we are."

Mohammed Malee Jamal , former Minister of Youth and Sports in the Yameen government said that the Maldivian tourist industry was worth US$ 6 billion, while the country’s annual budget was US$ 2 billion. " In such a situation what is the need to dispose of an entire Atoll in secrecy, for US$ 10 billion. Where will all that money go ? There is room for money laundering and corruption. Even when Kings ruled the Maldives,they did not have the right to sell land to foreigners?"

He alleged that parliamentarians were threatened into signing the amendment to the Land Act , that permitted the sale of land to foreigners. Other recent amendments to the Constitution had resulted in the introduction of criminal defamation and depriving people of the right to freedom of assembly, Jamal added.

When told that the Opposition did not have the numbers to oust Yameen , he said " President Yameen is very unpopular .We are confident of obtaining the required support to evict him legally."

Former Transport Minister Mohammed Aslam said that they were not opposed to foreign investments, but would not permit the sale of land to foreigners." Everything cannot be assessed in terms of dollars. You don’t sell your pride , family or a nations land resources ", he noted adding that the people would not permit the purported sale of Faafu Atoll ,since it would result in the natives being sidelined.

Aslam said that the Police had raided the Maldivian Democratic Party office in Male thrice in recent weeks, looking for any material that was critical of the government.

Asked if Yameen was planning to implement in picemeal former President Nasheed’s attempt to relocate Maldives to another part of the globe, he said that Nasheed’s plan was under different circumstances and related to environmental concerns resulting from sea erosion.

Adam Nazim, the brother of former Defence Minister Mohammed Nazim said that his brother had been imprisoned for 13-years on a false charge of possessing firearms, since Yameen considered him a threat to his presidential ambitions.

Abdulla Ameen, a former Minister at President Yameen’s office , said that though on the surface it appeared that Yameen was in full control of affairs, it would be a matter of time before his government fell.

Head of the Strategic Committee at the Adhaalath Party Ahmed Nasheed said that democracy in the Maldives was under serious threat,with people unable to express their opinions freely."Local Council Elections has already been postponed thrice."

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