UN delegation arrives amid Maldives unrest

Former president Mohamed Nasheed awaits arrest as top UN envoy appeals to “all actors” to avoid violence.

UN delegation arrives in Maldives

A delegation from the UN has arrived in the Maldives seeking assurances on the “security” of former president Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned on Tuesday amid what he called “nothing short of a coup”.

A Maldivian police spokesman, and Nasheed’s political party, said an arrest warrant had been issued for his arrest, but on Thursday night Nasheed remained in his home in the capital Male, surrounded by supporters.

“We are concerned about the security of the former president Nasheed,” said Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, who arrived with a delegation on Thursday night.

“It is extremely important that he be treated fully within the rule of law and that his rights, like those of all Maldivians, need to be protected and respected.”

Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz declined to comment when asked by the Reuters news agency if and when Nasheed would be arrested, and the new government has said nothing.

Earlier, Riyaz said that police were checking whether the warrant was constitutional. 

Fernandez-Taranco said any solution to the crisis, which has sparked street protests and a violent response from police, would come from within the Maldives and not be imposed from outside.

He urged “all political actors, all relevant actors” to remain calm and not “resort to incitement, threats or rhetoric that would not help moving this crisis into a peaceful resolution”.

A criminal court has also issued a warrant for the country’s former defence minister, an official for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said on Thursday.

But the official said the charges against Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, were unclear.

Clash with old regime

The recent developments in the country, stemmed from Nasheed’s years-long clash with the judiciary and what he said were unreformed elements remaining from 30 years of undemocratic rule, whom he accused of trying to stymie his efforts at reform.

On January 16, Nasheed sacked and ordered arrested the controversial head of the Maldives criminal court, a man perceived by some as loyal to the previous regime.

That sparked large protests in the small nation of island chains, and on Tuesday some members of the police mutinied, helping protesters gain control of the state broadcaster. Nasheed resigned hours later.

“The home minister has pledged [I will be] the first former president to spend all my life in jail,” Nasheed said on Thursday. “I hope the international community will take note of what is happening in the Maldives.”

Clashes have mostly occurred on the capital island of Male, but there were reports of unrest spreading to other islands within the Indian Ocean archipelago.

On the southern island of Addu, home to the country’s second largest city, about 300 soldiers and armed police were deployed after the city’s mayor, Abdulla Sodiq, had earlier said that law and order had broken down.

“They are on the streets now making arrests,” Sodiq, a member of Nasheed’s MDP, told the AFP news agency by phone.

Police ‘sent fleeing’

Al Jazeera’s Steve Chao, reporting from Male on Thursday, said there had been unrest on at least seven islands.

“We understand that in some cases police stations as well as courthouses have been torched and police officers have been sent fleeing off of these islands,” our correspondent said.

“In Addu [Atoll] city in the south, the stronghold of Nasheed’s supporters, we understand that some of the police have actually changed sides and joined the side of Nasheed’s supporters as well.”

Chao said some political parties were blaming Nasheed and his supporters for the violence.

“They believe that Nasheed is trying to foment what they call an insurgency-style comeback and have urged him and his party to get back to their roots of democracy,” he said.

Nasheed’s family arrived in Sri Lanka on Thursday afternoon, according to a government spokesperson in Colombo, AFP reported.

US to send envoy

International concern is growing over the situation in the Maldives, with human rights group Amnesty International saying on Thursday that security forces had attacked protesters who had taken to the streets to show support for Nasheed.

Amnesty called on the new government, headed by Mohamed Waheed, the former vice president sworn in as Nasheed’s successor, to investigate the attack and ensure freedom of expression.

The US on Wednesday said it intended to send an envoy to the Maldives.

“We are urging the government and the political parties to work together to resolve this situation peacefully,” Victoria Nuland, the US state department spokeswoman, told reporters.

And we’re continuing to monitor the situation.”

Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, will visit Male on Saturday, adding the visit to a previously scheduled tour of South Asia, she said.

The European Union also expressed “deep concern” over the situation.

A spokesman for the office of Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative on foreign affairs, said Ashton “calls on the authorities to guarantee the physical safety and the democratic rights of the people”.

Ministerial appointments

Waheed, who says he will appoint a government of national unity, on Thursday appointed Mohamed Nazim, a retired soldier, as defence minister and lawyer Mohamed Jameel Ahmed as home minister.

Although Waheed and his supporters deny that his predecessor was forced out of office, Nasheed told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that he was forced to step down, and would fight to return to office.

In an op-ed piece published by the New York Times on Thursday, Nasheed, who won the archipelago’s first free elections in 2008, said that dictatorships “don’t always die when the dictator leaves office”.

Nasheed said Islamic extremists posed a danger to democracy, and said that supporters of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the country’s long-time autocratic leader, branded “as apostates anyone who tried to defend the country’s liberal Islamic traditions”.

“Let the Maldives be a lesson for aspiring democrats everywhere: the dictator can be removed in a day, but it can take years to stamp out the lingering remnants of his dictatorship,” Nasheed wrote.

The Maldives, a popular luxury holiday destination that is home to about 400,000 people, consists of nearly 1,200 scattered islands, many of which are uninhabited or home to a few hundred people.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies