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Cablegate: Prospects for Reform Dominate Discussions In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 001669

SIPDIS

MANILA FOR USADB EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
TREASURY FOR S. CHUN
EB FOR D. EBERLY
SA/INS FOR C. SIM AND M. GOWER

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM EAID MV
SUBJECT: PROSPECTS FOR REFORM DOMINATE DISCUSSIONS IN
MALDIVES

REF: COLOMBO 1621

1. (SBU) Summary: DCM and Econchief visited Maldives
September 14 and 15 and found newly-appointed cabinet
members eager to move forward with a bold reform agenda,
while members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party
(MDP)continue to regroup following the August 12-13
demonstrations and related arrests. The constitutional
reform process, while edging forward, is hampered by
continued procedural debate in the Special Majlis
(parliament). The slow pace of reform has prompted the
opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) to question the
GORM?s commitment to the democratic process while
government officials question whether the MDP has the
patience necessary to operate in a democratic framework.
Dedicated but overworked Finance Ministry officials agreed
to work with us to get the U.S. tsunami assistance
agreement in final during October. The Ambassador and
other country team members will raise democracy and human
rights issues while in Male? next week for the first-ever
U.S.-Maldives Friendship Week. End Summary.

2. (SBU) During a September 14-15 visit to Maldives, DCM
and Econchief met with the newly-appointed Ministers of
Justice, Home Affairs, and Atoll Development, as well as
the Defense Minister, the Attorney General, the Chief of
Police, the Deputy Finance Minister, the Deputy Minister of
the Tourism Ministry, the (disenchanted) head of the Human
Rights Commission and representatives of the opposition
Maldives Democratic Party (MDP).

New Cabinet Members Largely Young, Very Dynamic
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) Newly-appointed Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel
Ali and Home Affairs Minister Ahmed Tasmeen Ali join a
cabinet that is growing younger and more dynamic as
President Gayoom continues to make changes in an effort to
prompt progress in the Special Majlis (parliament) that is
considering constitutional reforms. New Atoll Development
Minister (and longstanding US Embassy contact) Mohammed
Waheed Deen (a former member of the Maldivian Human Rights
Commission and a prominent businessman), while not a member
of the younger generation, was clearly enthusiastic about
his role in bringing reform to the outlying atolls and
spoke energetically about replacing atoll and island chiefs
(roughly the equivalent of mayors), currently appointed by
the President, with elected officials and devolving power
and budget authority away from Male? and out to the various
atolls.

4. (SBU) Jameel outlined an ambitious effort to revamp the
Justice Ministry, introduce judicial reform, establish a
national bar and accreditation process and seek training
for judges trained in both Commonwealth and Sharia law.
Tasmeen Ali was keen to continue to develop the capacity of
the national police force, which was split from the
National Security Service (Maldives? military) late last
year. He also outlined plans to develop a separate, well-
trained prison service and to construct a new prison on
Maahfushi Island, noting that the current prison there, in
which prisoners are kept in large common areas rather than
smaller cells, makes it almost impossible to control or
remove individual prisoners. He noted that his ministry,
as part of the GoRM decision to invite the ICRC in to look
at prison conditions, will work from ICRC standards as it
designs the new prison.

Growing Pains for Human Rights and Democracy
--------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Attorney General Hassan Saeed, who has been
pursuing ambitious reforms since assuming his position a
year ago, continues to push this agenda. He is developing
a ?reform road map? (which he claimed would be available in
English in the next ?two to three weeks?) and plans to
introduce a full range of judicial reform bills in the
upcoming Special Majlis (parliament) session beginning
October 1 as well as a ?police act? that would codify
procedures and responsibilities for the newly-independent
police force. When queried about detainees arrested on
August 12, Saeed said that most had been released, with
approximately 30 remaining in custody, having been charged
with various crimes.

6. (SBU) Defense Minister Ismael Shafeeu discussed the
challenges of trying to confront and quash the growth of
radical Islam, while allowing appropriate democratic
dissent to flourish now that political parties are legal.
He said ?Bangladesh has scared us a lot? (Note: a reference
to the recent coordinated bombings around Bangladesh. End
Note). Shafeeu discussed the upcoming release of ?Sheikh
Farid,? a Qatar-educated Islamic fundamentalist detained
several years ago for suspected terrorist activities.
Shafeeu said Farid, who ?we have to release since his
sentence is up,? would be monitored closely, to see if he
would join forces with the MDP or one of the newly formed
Islamic parties and to see if he continued to foment his
radical Islamic ideology. In that vein, Shafeeu, as well
as several other interlocutors, expressed concern over the
new (and legal) ?Justice? party which has a heavily Islamic
bent. Shafeeu and the AG both noted that the Islamic
Democratic Party had not been approved by the Elections
Commission due to irregularities in the petitions
submitted. The party has gone to court over this issue
(and, while waiting for its legal status to be determined,
has an office on the Male? waterfront with a small sign
taped in the window).

7. (SBU) Police Chief Adam Zahir told DCM that the events
of August 12-13 were unfortunate, but that the police had
done everything possible to avoid a confrontation.
Nonetheless, MDP supporters did not keep to a planned
meeting time and location and made efforts to incite
supporters and onlookers. (Note: as reported elsewhere,
other eyewitness accounts differ. End Note) The police
will be watching the lead-up to September 19 (the second
anniversary of the killing of three detainees in prison,
which prompted riots in 2003), and are concerned that there
may be some agitation among prisoners (Note: the
anniversary seems to have passed quietly. End Note).
Zahir asked DCM for more training opportunities for police,
noting that experience and training are what many officers
lack in dealing with these kinds of crowd/protest
situations (police officer Riyaz Abdulla, well-known to the
Embassy and just returned from the FBI course in Quantico,
sat in on the meeting and was ecstatic about his
experience). DCM said the USG would continue to look for
appropriate training opportunities for the police and told
Zahir that the new RSO would call on him during his
upcoming initial visit to Male?.

8. (SBU) Human Rights Commission Chairman Ahmed Mujuthuba
expressed frustration with the slow pace of the Special
Majlis and with the legislation setting up the Human Rights
Commission which, in his view, is not in accordance with
the Paris Principles which set standards for national human
rights commissions. Indeed, Mujuthuba tried to resign over
the issue but President Gayoom and other insiders told him
that the Special Majlis (when it reconvenes in October)
would pass legislation addressing his concerns. Mujuthuba
is refusing to go to work until corrective legislation
which he deems sufficient is passed. He also bemoaned ?the
manner in which democracy is being introduced,? which he
described as the government and the MDP shouting at each
other but no effort being made for the two sides (which in
his view have much in common) to sit down and try to reach
accommodation.

MDP Opposed to Gayoom But In Favor Of?
--------------------------------------

9. (SBU) In a September 14 meeting, MDP leader (and former
SAARC Secretary General) Ibrahim Zaki painted Gayoom as out
of touch with common Maldivians and forced to reshuffle his
cabinet and increase the number of political appointees
within the GORM in order to pack the Special Majlis, which
has been established to pursue constitutional reform. MDP
MP Mohammed Ibrahim Didi said he felt Gayoom might be
interested in some measure of reform, but that those around
him, who had benefited from his cronyism over the past 27
years, were making it difficult for him to move ahead.

10. (SBU) The MDP representatives had a long list of
grievances against Gayoom: increased Islamic radicalism
under his watch, corruption, failed tsunami relief and
reconstruction efforts and human rights abuses. However,
when asked to define their party platform and describe how
the MDP would differentiate itself from Gayoom?s rule, they
simply said they would develop ?a free and democratic
state, a prosperous economy and a happy citizenry.? (Note:
it is safe to say that President Gayoom and his officials
would claim exactly the same goals ? including a track
record of economic growth and recent efforts at democratic
reform. End Note) In a similar vein, the MDP members
harped on the need for the ?international community? to do
more but, when pinned down on specific additional steps
they would like to see the U.S. take, were unable to come
up with any.

Tsunami Reconstruction Underway, Slowly but Surely

SIPDIS
--------------------------------------------- -----

11.. (SBU) DCM and Econchief also met with newly-arrived
World Bank Rep Richard Scurfield, Deputy Finance Minister
Riluwan Shareef and UNDP ResRep Patrice Coeur-Bizot. All
three painted a picture of tsunami relief and
reconstruction that was marching ahead, hampered somewhat
by a lack of absorptive capacity in Maldives, but slowly
making headway. Shareef indicated that a significant
tsunami reconstruction financing gap (approximately USD 100

SIPDIS
million) still existed and that the increased cost of oil
was driving up recurrent expenditures, leaving a growing
budget gap. (New Deputy Minister for Tourism Abdul Hameed
Zakariyyah, well-known to us from his recently-concluded
tenure as Foreign Secretary, told DCM and Econ Chief that
resort bookings, a major revenue engine, are currently
running at roughly 70%, down from historic highs but
significantly up from the immediate post-tsunami period.)
UNDP and World Bank will be assisting Maldives in its
meetings on the margins of the IMF/WB meetings in
Washington with Special UN Representative Clinton and his
representatives, with an eye towards increased private
sector investment in Maldives as well as additional
bilateral assistance. Scurfield said the Bank had decided
to open an office, in conjunction with the Asian
Development Bank, in an effort to improve capacity in the
Finance Ministry, other Ministries with tsunami
reconstruction responsibilities and to help push
reconstruction decisions forward.

12. DCM and Econchief discussed with Shareef the status of
the U.S. tsunami assistance package. Shareef noted that
the GORM was pulling together exact language on what U.S.
assistance will cover and advised that it should be
possible to conclude the agreement by late October (Ramadan
begins in early October and is a period of reduced activity
in the GORM). DCM and Econchief urged that the U.S.
agreement be brought to closure as soon as possible, so
that U.S. assistance can get out to those in need and
Washington agencies can include the Maldivian program in
reporting to Congress on the status of the tsunami
supplemental funds. Shareef took the point.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) Change is afoot in Maldives, though not as
quickly as some would like (almost every interlocutor
quickly acknowledged that the Special Majlis needs to pick
up the pace on constitutional reform). Nonetheless, the
registration of parties, the changing face (and average
age) of the cabinet and the improved handling of arrests
and incarcerations (including the decision to grant the
ICRC and EU immediate and full access to detainees) give a
sense that Gayoom is serious about progress, but concerned
that the pace of reform be carefully managed. We were
again struck by how much Gayoom supporters and MDP members
have in common when it comes to political and economic
philosophies and educational backgrounds, and how many in
the MDP are successful products of the Gayoom system. In
many regards, the sole point of contention between the two
sides seems to be whether one thinks Gayoom is the solution
or the problem. The Ambassador will review human rights
and democracy progress with the President next week when he
and others from the country team are in Maldives for our
inaugural U.S.-Maldives Friendship Week. End Comment

LUNSTEAD

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