MonitorsPublished on Jan 03, 2014
The year 2013 started with a glimmer of hope for political prisoners languishing in jails across Myanmar when President Thein Sein announced a committee to scrutinise release of political prisoners in February.
Myanmar: A year of hope and despair for political prisoners
< class="heading1">Analysis

The year 2013 started with a glimmer of hope for political prisoners languishing in jails across Myanmar when President Thein Sein announced a committee to scrutinise release of political prisoners in February. The government followed this announcement with amnesty for over 150 political prisoners on four separate occasions and pledged to free all political prisoners by 31 December 2013.

However, the Government’s recent claim that there are no political prisoners in the country after the so-called five remaining political prisoners comes as despair for many who still languish in jail and also those who continue to be arrested on undemocratic laws that curtail democratic rights.

The Thein Sein Government released five political prisoners and 200 others saw their charges dropped on 31 December 2013. Those granted pardon were prisoners convicted of various political offenses, including unlawful association, violations of the peaceful assembly law and contempt of Government. On 2 January, 2014, the public broadcaster said that President Thein Sein has commuted death sentences to life imprisonment and has reduced sentences of prisoners serving sentences above 40 years to 40 years on humanitarian grounds.

The release of political prisoners is welcome and reposes faith in the country’s ongoing political reforms however the non-transparent nature and ambiguity in defining political prisoners remains a cause of concern.

Ambiguity in definition

President Sein defines political prisoners narrowly as ’prisoners of conscience.’ He has repeatedly stated that "all those who have committed criminal acts are out of the purview of prisoners of conscience."

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), or AAPP (B), an independent organization founded in 2000 by ex-political prisoners, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) use a relatively broad definition of political prisoners. The AAPP (B) defines a political prisoner as "anyone who is arrested because of his or her perceived or real involvement in or supporting role in opposition movements with peaceful or resistance means."

The AAPP (B) says that the Government’s definition of ’prisoners of conscience’ is exclusionary as the government continues to detain political dissidents with false allegations even if they are committed to non-violent means. AAPP (B) also takes a position that ’violence must be seen in the backdrop of violent crimes committed by the state, particularly against ethnic minorities.’

The Government is still at logger-heads with armed ethnic groups and hence number of prisoner’s taken into custody cannot be determined. Only a few of the prisoners released till date were associated with the ethnic militias or their affiliated political parties.

Also, much criticized is the Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law as well as Section 505 of the Penal Code, which allows for imprisonment for causing fear or alarm to the public, or for inciting others to commit an offense against the state or public tranquility.

The Penal Code also says that any former political prisoner who is freed in an amnesty and later convicted of another crime will be required to serve not only the new prison sentence, but also the remaining years old, cancelled sentence. This has drawn flak from several quarters.

Pressure building up

The Thein Sein Government has acted on the pressure from international actors like the US and the UK is evident from the Government’s claim on the New Year Eve of freeing all political prisoners. The US Congress has already stated that the political prisoners issue is ’pivot’ to US policy. The UN committee on human rights has also appealed the Myanmar Government to resolve pending cases and stop the persecution of Rohingyas.

The Government has conceded some of the demands. It has announced that it would commute death sentences to life imprisonment and would reduce imprisonment of more than 40 years to 40 years on humanitarian grounds. However, this is not enough. According to estimates over 200 political prisoners still await trial and 35 political prisoners mostly members of armed ethnic groups who are serving sentences still remain in country’s jails.

The Government needs to prioritise the release of all political prisoners before the 2015 elections for two reason -- for silencing their critics by making reforms more inclusive and for reconciliation with armed ethnic groups. The Government with its 31 December statement seemed desperate to silence its critics, however lacked sincerity of intension.

The scenario, where all ’prisoners of conscience’ are set free, for now seems to be a distant reality. The onus is now on Thein Sein Government to build on political reforms underway in the country by removing the sections in law that threaten free speech and reforming the judiciary and correctional homes for making justice accessible even to its citizens.

(The writer is a Research Assistant at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maldives: ’Awesome’ Indian ’readiness’ in ’accomplished visit’

N Sathiya Moorthy

"The first day of the New Year, I am spending not with my people, I am spending with India?I have come to India at a very difficult time to the Maldivian people? Maldivian economy at this point in time is impoverished?I have come to India at a time of great need for Maldivian people. Anticipation from my visit is high?India has assisted Maldives in times of need?India continues to assist us in all areas of development?We will be coming to India time and time again. The readiness on the part of Indian Government has been awesome?While we have had slight differences in the past, my regime? is committed to resolving all of these issues?the relationship India and Maldives have cannot be matched by the relationship that we can have with any other country?My visit to India is an accomplished visit..."

It is not always that any visiting Head of State would be as candid and frank about the state, status and inherent strengths of bilateral relations with the host country as the new Maldivian President Abulla Yameen was during his four-day visit to India. Fresh from Parliament’s confirmation vote for all 15 of his Cabinet nominees, against a three-line whip issued by the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) with a majority in the 77-member House, to vote out eight of them, President Yameen sounded as pragmatic and as realistic as political leaders (can) come.

In doing so, President Yameen was also addressing diverse constituencies nearer home, ahead of the 17 January local council polls and the more important parliamentary polls, slated for 22 March. To the extent the parliamentary polls are still wide open and the House too would be in recess for much of the rest of the run-up, the ’confirmation vote’ that his leadership could obtain for all his Cabinet members -- 10 MDP members defying party whip and one of them crossing over to President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) - may have sent out a message of sorts to allies and adversaries nearer home, and to observers outside the country.

Translated, it could mean that President Yameen and his PPM leadership may not be incapable of providing the kind of political stability that Maldives badly needs and has sourly lacked for most of the past decade. Interpreted further, it further means that the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature in an infant democracy could be expected to be cohesive. Through the first five years of democratisation, it was invariably on a collusion-course all the time.

A lot however would depend on the results of the parliamentary polls and the message that it carries for the rulers and the ruling class as a whole. Yet, in the short available to him, President Yameen has also proved that he may be a ’better manager’ of parliamentary politics than his two predecessors, also from the ’democracy era’. MDP’s Mohammed Nasheed and his successor from controversial circumstances, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, proved that they could not purchase peace with Parliament, whatever be the issue and circumstance.

Reports are sketchy, at best, about President Yameen approaching the Opposition MDP to have Parliament clear the ’confirmations’ for all his Cabinet nominees. As a parliamentarian of long standing and having worked to vote out some of President Nasheed’s Cabinet nominees while in the Opposition, he seemed to have pre-judged MDP’s political predicament in clearing the nomination of those ministers that they had dubbed as being part of what they continue to call as a ’coup’ that culminated in the elevation of then Vice-President Waheed.

After the confirmation vote-now, President Nasheed lost no time in rebutting rumours that the MDP was possibly using ’confirmation’ as a bargaining-chip to have the pending criminal case against him dropped. Unlike in the past, the Government side has not denied it, or has contested his claim. Even while seeking answers for the internal dissensions that have begun to show up in as ’disciplined party’ as the MDP, the leadership can be expected to focus all energies on the upcoming twin-polls, and continue to stay as relevant, if not more, as it has got used to, since the early years of pro-democracy struggle in the country.

Need for consensus on economic reforms

Coinciding with President Yameen’s visit, India restored the export of sand and aggregates required by the construction industry and individuals in Maldives. Taking note of the increased fiscal pressure on the country, New Delhi also restored the $ 25 million stand-by credit facility to the Indian Ocean archipelago. Visa restrictions on Maldivians wanting to undertake medical treatment in India, particularly in south Indian cities.

Given the steep and near-eternal increases in global oil prices, which has further brought pressure on successive Governments in Maldives when it comes to imports, India is now offering to export petroleum products to that country. In bilateral talks with President Yameen, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advised Indian agencies to "offer best possible terms and arrangements" for meeting the petroleum product requirements of Maldives.

India is the single largest aid-giver and economic partner of Maldives, for years and decades. However, bilateral economic relations came under some stress in the face of anti-India protests that marked the change-of-power on the one hand, but more rampantly and rabidly afterward. That President Waheed was seen not as pulling up the kind of aides who had targeted then Indian High Commissioner, Dyaneshwar Mulay, but instead, promoting them, did not help matters, either. In this background, the restoration of existing facilities that had been withdrawn in between augurs well for bilateral economic cooperation reaching the old zestful self, with possibilities for progress en route.

The present, restorative economic measures from the Indian side may not be enough to put Maldives’ on the recovery process wholly, or fast-track future direction and growth. Yet, it could be a propitious beginning, considering that as a small nation with a smaller population desirous of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of growth and development, live-styles and well-being, Maldives has been swinging between the two extremes of possibilities and desirability.

This has been the case almost ever since ’resort-tourism’ became the mainstay of the economy in the Seventies, when Maldives was still an idyllic island-nation with capital Male too remaining one large fishing village, but with a people ever ready and eternally eager to move up the development ladder, both as a nation and as individuals. Today, Maldives may have reached the next stage, in which fresh foreign investments have to be accompanied by fresh ideas on using up those investments for the nation’s good.

While the nation’s energies and time may have been expended in the pro-democracy struggle and democratisation process through the past years, the economic travails were only growth were only growing, not lessening during the period. Now, multi-party electoral democracy having stabilised as the nation’s politico-administrative process for the foreseeable future, it’s time that greater energy and urgency are conferred on the economic travails of the nation - and attendant possibilities, too.

It’s here, President Yameen’s past experience as the nation’s Finance Minister under half-brother, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is expected to keep him in good stead. Having identified economy as his Government’s priority area, and having acknowledged that close to half the nation’s voters did not vote for him in the presidential polls, he is well-equipped and well-placed to work towards a ’consensus approach’ to economic reforms, which his bete noire and predecessor, President Mohammed Nasheed, had initiated.

To both leaders should go, in this respect, of having the courage and conviction to move forward with economic reforms policy while in power, even when they had known that it had the potential to hurt their political future ahead of the series of elections that they had had to face (in the case of President Nasheed) or would have to face (President Yameen). To President Yameen should also go the credit of not opposing some of the economic reforms policies of the Nasheed administration only for the sake of opposing -- when he was either an active member of the Opposition, or the official Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, later.

It’s compensation for GMR?

It’s in this overall context and background that the future course of the controversial construction-cum-concession contract for the Indian infrastructure major GMR Group, initiated by the Nasheed Government and annulled by the successor Waheed administration, needs to be viewed. There are those in Maldives who view that many of the Indian decisions on the bilateral economic front over the past year had more to do with the GMR contract annulment than real issues. They have refused to acknowledge that it may have had more to do with domestic politics in Maldives and that India may have been badly hurt by the unprovoked and unjustified street-sentiments, which also became after a point, to dissuade which the Maldivian Government of the day did not do anything at all.

In a nation where ’coalition politics’ came to rule the roost even with the first-ever multi-party democratic elections for the presidency in 2008, there is precious little that the Yameen leadership, or anyone else in his place could be expected to do, by way of restoring the GMR contract to its original self. What instead the Government now seems to be looking at seems to be the ways and means by which it could restore investor-confidence into the future, aimed mainly at the Indian investor and Government, which had shown a tremendous interest in creating non-governmental Indian initiatives for improving and stabilising Maldivian economy in ways that the balance of trade did not continue to remain wholly unfavourable to the archipelago-nation.

GMR was not the only one but was only one of the few big-ticket Indian investments that has run into hurdles in Maldives. Yet, it was also the single largest FDI in Maldives, and may remain so for a long, long time to come. Other Indian investments whose future was put on the limbo included the Tatas, whose Taj Group has been running two resorts in Maldives, and has a global presence that goes beyond the relatively small investments in the country. An ’amicable solution’ thus sought by Prime Minister Singh to the GMR issue thus covers other Indian investors in Maldives, existing and future. Needless to say, other investors from other countries will also be looking at the ’GMR issue’ for clues on what all may lie ahead of them for investing in Maldives.

In talks with the Indian delegation led by Prime Minister Singh, and later at a luncheon with Indian business leaders in Delhi, President Yameen readily conceded that the ’GMR issue’ was ’politicised’. He however was not known to have elaborated on the term - whether he was referring to the annulment part, or the agreement part was also covered by his description, as the Nasheed Government was seen as playing a cat-and-mouse game with domestic stake-holders, including the Male Airport Authority, the political Opposition in general and Parliament in particular, to have the GMR contract pushed through the governmental processes at every stage and every turn.

Whichever way one looks at, politicised the GMR issue and the contract-annulment has been. Given that President Yameen is still at the top of a pyramidal political coalition, and will need to carry on with them, until after the parliamentary polls and even beyond, there can be little hope or expectation for his Government to revive the GMR contract. It only needs to be recalled that the coalition had together protested the GMR contract at birth under the Nasheed regime, and for its annulment when President Waheed was in power with their political and parliamentary support.

It’s sad that domestic politics in Maldives, which aimed at whipping up ’nationalist, religious’ sentiments, was allowed to try end up making India a political, if not an electoral issue, in the country - and contextualising it to GMR. In a televised message onn the Maldivian National Day, coinciding this time with his India visit, President Yameen said that the "nation’s independence and sovereignty must not be compromised while fcing major challenges". He called upon all Maldivian citizens to consider protecting and upholding the Islamic faith and Maldivian nationhood as their foremost duty. According to local media report on the President’s speech, he also said that the "nation could remain steadfast in its Islamic faith, and retain its unity only by determining the real issues affecting it and working towards development in a cohesive fashion".

In his public statement after the bilateral talks in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Singh said that he had asked President Yameen to settle the airport issue ’amicably’. President Yameen also did not shy away from the issue, either in talks with the Indian leaders or the Indian investors. Both sides thus acknowledged the existence of an issue there, and did not shy away from the need for Maldives to address the investor-concerns in India flowing from the unsure nature of the future of their possible long-term investments that may accompany every change of government in the country. President Yameen also told the Indian investors that his Government was all for an out-of-court settlement with GMR, thus partially trying to reassure them that even if a contract went bad, whatever the reason, the investors’ interests would be protected to the limited/highest extent possible.

Stand-alone issue and debt-spiral

Ahead of the presidential visit, GMR Group chairman G M Rao had told the Indian media that they would be willing to operate the Male airport, if invited by the Maldivian Government. President Yameen’s declaration since may have put an end to revived expectations, if not hopes on that score. Back home in Male from the India visit, President Yameen did not lose much time in telling newsmen that he was looking only at ’compensation’ for the GMR Group for the monies expended by them on the airport project, and not restoring the contract.

President Yameen also reiterated the Government’s resolve to continue operating the Male airport through the public sector corporate, as it used to be before and after the ’GMR saga’. In a way, it may have been aimed at silencing critics nearer home and afar that the forced exit of the GMR was aimed at paving the way for the entry of other corporates from other countries not exactly friendly towards India. Questions thus would continue to haunt the Maldivian Government, now and later, as to how for an impoverished economic as theirs could - and did, if it happened thus - find the large sums required to ’compensate’ GMR.

If the Government were to demand upfront payment from other foreign investors and seek to rotate those moneys for payments to GMR, it would only cause a ’debt spiral’ from which it would become difficult for future Governments, too, to get out. A nation that had continued to live off budgetary support from India and aid from India and the rest even when per capita income and GDP had been the highest in South Asia for long would have to look inward more than is willing to do. GMR thus would have to be handled as a ’stand-alone issue’ not only in terms of re-building investor-confidence but also on the compensation front.

In the past, the compensation issue itself had proved ticklish with the Waheed Government contesting GMR’s claims both on the investments and losses at the Singapore arbitration court. The Government also contested the claims, complaining that they did not match the actual investments and losses borne by GMR. Thankfully, the fact that the GMR Group had paid $ 78 million upfront to the Maldivian Government of the day and had also visibly invested massive sums on the airport cannot be - was not contested. In New Delhi, President Yameen told Indian investors that his officials were already talking to GMR representatives. Back in Male, he said that GMR team was expected to visit the country for (further) discussions on this score.

Promoting and protecting investments

The joint statement issued at the end of the official leg of President Yameen’s visit clearly spelt out the desire of the two nations to sign an investment promotion and protection agreement at the earliest. This would also mean that unlike in the case of the GMR investments, where the Government of India had encouraged Indian private sector to invest big time in Maldives to help sustain and stabilise the economy, New Delhi may have to ensure that there is no cause or circumstance for loss of investor confidence in the southern neighbour. Considering that India is the largest economy with the largest private sector that has been investing big-time in Europe and the US, any agreement of the kind could become a model for New Delhi promoting bilateral private sector Indian investments in the immediate, South Asian neighbourhood, with the accompanying promise of protection.

Independent of an ’amicable settlement’ to the GMR dispute, Indian investors - and their counterparts elsewhere - would be looking at the future of such investments, and would be taking a long time , testing the waters even if investor-protection laws were to be put in place. Once bitten, they would be twice shy. Both sides, for starters, would be looking at the fine-print in future, and so would investors begin reading the political barometer in Maldives with greater seriousness than already. They would be looking at laws that would have to address conceptual and contractual issues in clear terms, going beyond political polemic of a given time and holding true for all political weather conditions in the country.

For instance, the question of ’national asset’ not applicable while leasing out resort-islands (the only tangible asset of investment of the host Government) to foreign investors came to be flagged post facto in the airport issue. Procedural issues like the authorised bank guarantor from the Government side to protect the investor’s interests too have come under question, since. ’Political consensus’, ’legal protection’ and ’due diligence’ would be the phrases that could be expected to be in vogue as the Government settles GMR’s claims on the one hand, and also seeks to put in place a legal and/or constitutional framework aimed at separating ’national issues’ from economic concerns and investor-confidence, alongside. Whether in the process if the Government would look at the need for a domestic partner for the foreign investor, and the latter too would consider such possibilities favourably, could also come to be debated.

Peace in the Indian Ocean

Independent of the India media coverage of President Yameen’s visit focussing on the immediate, and thus on economic cooperation, with particular reference to investment protection and thus the GMR issue, more abiding bilateral interests in political, diplomatic and security cooperation came to be discussed in every official discussions with the visiting delegation. With Maldivian Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim having met with his Indian counterpart less than a fortnight earlier in Delhi - and his face having become familiar in the Indian capital, President Yameen’s meeting with A K Antony this was confined to a passing line in official statements. That did not in any way reduce the importance of bilateral defence and security discussions that the visitor had with Indian leaders, more so in the shared Indian Ocean context.

It was thus that both sides in the bilateral talks at different levels kept constantly referring to mutual cooperation in the sensitive areas of diplomacy and security. President Yameen in particular highlighted India rushing immediate help to Maldives, both during ’war-like situation’ and peace-time - the 3 November coup attempt of 1988, and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. He highlighted how the two countries had backed each other in international forums and would continue to do so.

From the Indian side, concern was expressed for ensuring peace in the shared Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which as during the ’Cold War’ years is increasingly becoming a ’hot-bed’ of geo-strategic competition as never before. In meeting with his Maldivian counterpart, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee said that New Delhi "wishes to work with Maldives and other like-minded nations to ensure peace in the Indian Ocean region. India and Maldives are natural partners in this enterprise," he said.

President Mukherjee said that as India, like Maldives, has had to address the challenges of piracy, smuggling, extremism and religious fundamentalism, both countries would like to see uninterrupted peace and security prevail in the Indian Ocean Region. "India remains fully cognizant of the needs of Maldives in dealing with these issues and is committed to assist in achieving the defence and security objectives of the Government of Maldives," a Rashtrapati Bhavan statement said, quoting President Mukherjee.

Prime Minister Singh’s opening statement at the news conference with President Yameen made the point further. Stating that the two countries have agreed on a number of initiatives to strengthen bilateral defence and security cooperation, through training, equipment supply, capacity-building, joint patrolling, aerial and maritime surveillance, Prime Minister Singh said: "We are also deepening trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka, and look forward to expanding it to other countries in the Indian Ocean. India is ready to provide further assistance and support to Maldives in strengthening our collective ability to address our shared security challenges."

The reference was obviously to India and Maldives inviting and involving Sri Lanka in the 11th edition of bilateral, bi-annual Coast Guard exercise, ’Dhosti’ in 2012, and following it up with a trilateral maritime security cooperation agreement, addressing piracy, extremism, smuggling and environmental concerns, etc, the following year. The bilateral discussions in this regard would have to be contextualised also to certain non-territorial player security engagements with Maldives in recent years, the increasing non-territorial player involvement and interventions at times in the shared Indian Ocean neighbourhood of these three countries, particularly in the context of the emerging situation in the extended southern waters in the years that follow, almost immediately.

Whether the current initiatives would take a deeper defence and security meaning on the military side, and/or a political initiative that goes back to the ’Cold War’ era, with a call for declaring the ’Indian Ocean as a zone of peace’, but with demonstrable collective fire-power to back the demand remains to be seen in the years. That security cooperation among the three nations have been robust even through the recent periods of bilateral strains between the other two nations with India needs to be noted with satisfaction.

Likewise, the Indian strategic community should learn to appreciate the need for acknowledging areas of fiscal and development cooperation between neighbourhood nations and extra-territorial powers like China and the US, Russia and the EU, and Australia and Japan (the last two being extended neighbours, all the same). The commitment of the two nations not to allow their territory to be used in ways inimical to other’s security concerns would go a long way in reassuring India in particular, but Maldives too, to a limited extent, on issues religious and political extremism creeping in through the sides.

State visit and more

President Yameen was in India only weeks ahead of the commencement of the presidential polls in September last year, which proved to be as controversial as it later became conclusive. That was Candidate Yameen coming to acquaint himself with the Indian leadership and update each other mutually on understanding bilateral expectations and personal positions. This time, he came on a ’State visit’ after India consciously decided that it should be one.

This meant that President Pranab Mukherjee as the Head of the Indian State received President Yameen on the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, along with Prime Minister Singh, to the accompaniment of a tri-Services ceremonial guard-of-honour, not to be confused with such other ’official visits’. As Prime Minister Singh later pointed out, it was appropriate that President Yameen was the first international visitor to India in the New Year. The latter also underlined the point that he had chosen to be with India, rather than his own people on the New Year, when he landed in New Delhi. Appropriately, President Yameen and his entourage spent time with Maldivians in New Delhi on the evening of his arrival, the New Year’s Day.

There is a long way to go in bilateral cooperation between India and Maldives, but a lot was covered during President Yameen’s visit. Both in India and back home, President Yameen under-scored the point that bilateral relations had peaked during the tenure of his half-brother and party boss, President Gayoom, indicating the scope and commitment to revive and continue on the same path, all over again. Democratisation in Maldives, and the nation’s democratic experience and dynamism of the first five years of infancy may have identified even more areas of practical and pragmatic areas of cooperation between the two.

Like for instance, India’s democracy experience over the past decades, including in areas of Executive powers and legislative rights, and judicial activism, both in constitutional matters and others, can go a long way in Maldives’ understanding of democracy and the role of democratic institutions in South Asian, Third World context. As Maldives aims at further economic reforms and investor laws, covering national interests and investment-protection, India’s experience with legislation-making through too could be of help. Modern Maldives, always moderate, can also learn from India’s long experience in striking the right balance between religious codes and civil laws.

To this end already, the two nations signed an agreement during Prime Minister Singh’s bilateral visit in November 2011 (when the Addu City SAARC Summit was in greater focus) for helping with banking laws in the country. Agreements signed during the current visit of President Yameen also provide for increased cooperation in the all-important fields of education and healthcare, which are closer to the hearts of every Maldivian than is understood.

This could - but should - involve the deployment of experienced and well-equipped Indian doctors and para-medics apart from teachers all across Maldives, and equip Maldivian hospitals adequately. Though Indian medical and teaching professionals are already there, the Indian Government’s involvement in these peripheral areas would also go a long way in improving people-to-people contact in a more meaningful way than already. And in a grassroots-level, electoral democracy that would also matter after a time - and at times, that alone would matter, too!

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

< class="heading1">Country Reports


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Solution to South China Sea issue key to ASEAN chair

Myanmar must avoid bowing to any form of international pressure on the South China Sea dispute when it takes the ASEAN chairmanship next year, a Government official says. U Aung Htoo, deputy director-general in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ ASEAN Affairs Department, said Myanmar would seek to emulate the approach of Brunei and work toward a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

On 10 October, participants at the East Asia Summit - the 10 ASEAN members and eight other countries, including the United States, China and Japan - welcomed "positive progress" on official consultations toward the code of conduct. U Aung Htoo said Myanmar will try to add further momentum to these initial talks.

"China has now agreed to the principle of a code of conduct to resolve the South China Sea dispute. We can’t go against China and we will try our best to handle the dispute with China’s agreement as much as we can," U Aung Htoo said.

He said it was important that Myanmar is not perceived as favouring either side in the dispute, adding that it would seek to avoid the situation that occurred when Cambodia chaired the group in 2011 and acceded to China’s demands on the text of an ASEAN communiqué, prompting a major diplomatic squabble.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, 30 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">President backs law-change for Suu Kyi’s sake

Myanmar’s leader on 2 January lent his support to reform of the country’s junta-era constitution, indicating he would back changes to allow opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi to become president.

Thein Sein, a former general who has won international praise for dramatic reforms since he became president in 2011, said lively debate about revising the charter showed increasing "political maturity".

"I believe that a healthy constitution must be amended from time to time to address the national, economic, and social needs of our society," he said in a speech published in the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper. "I would not want restrictions being imposed on the right of any citizen to become the leader of the country," Thein Sein said.

Earlier, the central committee of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has decided that 73 provisions of the 2008 Constitution need to be amended and 21 provisions annulled completely, sources say.

At its second meeting on 30 December, the central committee agreed to amend the provision that bars political candidates whose spouses, legitimate children or their spouses owe allegiance to a foreign country. However, the committee noted that the provision does not explicitly prevent Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s potential candidacy for president.

Another provision USDP’s central committee recommended for amendment is one that allows states to appoint regional chief ministers and regional MPs, instead of the president holding that responsibility.

Suu Kyi has vociferously campaigned for a change to the 2008 constitution, which also ring-fences a quarter of the seats in parliament for unelected military personnel. On 28 December, 2013 Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party said it would not boycott the 2015 poll, even without a constitutional amendment first to allow her to become president.

< class="text11verdana">Source: AFP,, 2 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’No more political prisoners’, says Govt

The Myanmar Government has announced there are "no more political prisoners" after issuing a sweeping amnesty order aimed at fulfilling a presidential pledge to free all dissidents by the end of the year.

The Government, late on 31 December 2013 said it would pardon those imprisoned under a series of controversial legislation, including the Emergency Act used by the junta to imprison opponents as well as laws governing freedom of assembly and the right to protest.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said the amnesty, along with a separate pardon for five additional inmates jailed under other legislation, meant "there are no more political prisoners".

"I would like to say that the president has fulfilled his promise given to the people, because there will be no political prisoners at all at the end of 2013," he said in a post on his Facebook page, without giving further details.

Campaigners recently said some 40 dissidents were behind bars under Myanmar’s draconian laws, while a further 200 people were awaiting trial, mainly for protesting without permission.

Myanmar’s president is also commuting the death sentences of some convicts and slashing the jail terms of others, but it is unclear whether any political prisoners will be freed through his order.

State television and radio said the order signed on 2 January, 2014 by President Thein Sein, commutes death sentences to life imprisonment, reduces sentences of more than 40 years to 40 years.

It also cuts sentences of 40 years or less by one-fourth on humanitarian grounds and to mark the 66th anniversary of the country’s independence on Saturday. It was not immediately clear how many prisoners will benefit.

"Many prisoners from various prisons, including criminals, will be freed under this order," said Bo Kyi of Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners and a member of the Political Prisoner Scrutinizing Body formed by the government.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Myanmar Times, The Hindu 3 January 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">EC submits final list of FPTP, PR names to President

The Election Commission (EC) on January 2 submitted the final list of candidates elected under the First Past the Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR) electoral systems to President Dr Ram Baran Yadav. Though the EC´s original deadline for submitting the final list of PR candidates expired on December 30, the EC had delayed forwarding the final list as two political parties--Federal Socialist Party (FSP) and Madhesi People´s Rights Forum-Nepal (MPRF-N)-- could not submit the lists of their candidates on time.

As per the Constituent Assembly Members Election Ordinance, the EC is required to publish a final list of candidates after the political parties submit their final lists. The EC is then required to forward the list to the Office of the President, which then publishes the list in the Nepal Gazette. Article 69 of the Interim Constitution states that the first meeting of the CA is to be held as summoned by the prime minister within 21 days after the EC publishes the final lists. But controversy has nevertheless arisen as to who should call the first meeting of the CA--the president or the chairman of the Interim Election Council.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Disputes highlight flaws in PR method

Top leaders of almost all the 30 political parties that have secured seats in the newly elected Constituent Assembly (CA) came under heavy fire this week over selection of candidates for seats under proportional representation (PR) electoral system. The dissidents have not only challenged the decisions of their respective parties but have also attempted to split the party, announced to resign en masse and registered their note of dissent over the nominations.

The Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPPN) that won only four seats in 2008 emerged as the fourth largest party by securing 24 seats in the November 19 election. But the enthusiasm of cadres didn´t last as the party was the first to face strongest protest from the dissident group.

The UCPN (Maoist) that suffered a humiliating loss in the November election also faced a serious intra-party dispute over the same issue. Top leaders of the largest party, Nepali Congress and second-largest CPN-UML are facing similar trouble. A group of NC central committee members registered their note of dissent against the official list of PR candidates.

The story of Madhes-based and other fringe parties is even more distressing. Most of these parties have picked the party chief, their better halves, other kin or they loyal ones for the PR seats. The dissident groups had objected the party decisions even during the first CA election in 2008, when the PR electoral system was first introduced. But, the nature of protest is more serious this time around.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt stops Malaysia work permits

The Government on January 2 stopped issuing work permits for jobs in Malaysia that do not meet the minimum salary rate set by the Malaysian government. The Malaysian government has set a minimum monthly salary of INR 27,000 (900 Malaysian ringgit). Earlier, the Nepali migrant workers were getting a monthly salary of INR 19,000 (MR 650). The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) announced that it will not endorse any contract failing to meet the minimum wage of MR 900.

The DoFE said the employer will now have to submit an original copy of ’notary verified letter’ specifying the minimum wage to get both the pre-and final-work approval from the Nepal government. Government officials and the recruiting agencies here said that implementation of minimum wage will increase the income of the migrant workers. Malaysian media, citing the Malaysian Ministry of Finance, reported that Nepali migrants had remitted MR 1.90 billion (INR 58.90 billion approximately) from Malaysia in 2012. Nepal is the third largest recipient of Malaysian remittance after Indonesia and Bangladesh. Government officials, however, said the pay rise would benefit the Malaysian government over migrant workers due to mandatory levy imposed there.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 2 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">First SEZ by February

The government of Nepal is all set to start operating its first special economic zone (SEZ) at Bhairawaha by February 2014, officials said on December 30. The construction of this much talked about SEZ had begun 12 years ago.

The ministry of industry, which had previously planned to operate the SEZ at Bhairawaha by mid-April this year, could not meet its target after the contractor chosen for the construction failed to complete the task within the agreed time.

The ministry has also been preparing an Expression of Interest (EoI) to be floated as a formal proposal to ask interested industries to come within the SEZ boundary.

A total of 52 plots have been developed for 200 factories in the Bhairawaha SEZ which is located some 250 kilometre west of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu. The industry ministry also said that after looking at the response to the first SEZ it would set up three SEZs in Biratnagar, Panchkhal and Bara by the end of 2014.

Earlier, in the first week of February 2013, the government decided to run the SEZ through a SEZ Development Committee after its attempt to introduce an SEZ Act failed due to the absence of a parliament in the country.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 30 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Musharraf hospitalised with chest pain

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was taken to hospital with chest pains on his way to face charges of treason against him in a special court in Islamabad. This is the third time that Musharraf has failed to appear in court. The first two times he cited security reasons.

While legal experts say that Musharraf cannot leave the country without the court’s permission, there is speculation that Musharraf might be allowed safe passage to Saudi Arabia on health grounds in a "secret deal" being brokered by international players. However, the foreign office has rejected this speculation that the Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal’s visit is linked to the treason trial.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Reuters, 2 January 2014; The Express Tribune, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt did not ask Samiul Haq to hold peace talks

Sources have clarified that the Government did not task Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) Chief Maulana Samiul Haq to revive peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

They clarified that the cleric had asked for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s time and after meeting him, unilaterally, announced that the government had given him the task to hold peace talks.

It had been reported on December 31, 2013 that the Prime Minister was looking to mend broken communication links with TTP and had named Haq as the government’s point-man and ice-breaker in the proposed negotiations.

The JUI-S had not been invited to the All-Party Conference in 2013 which was convened to chalk out a plan to tackle terrorism.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Express Tribune, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Violence in Karachi claims five lives

At least five people were killed in different incidents of violence in Karachi. Rangers and police forces conducted a joint targeted operation in Kunwari colony of Karachi’s Manghopir area during which an exchange of gunfire between suspected terrorists and security forces took place killing two people.

A Rangers spokesperson said that the two killed were members of the TTP who resisted arrest and opened fire.

In another incident, three bodies bearing torture marks were recovered from Rehri Goth area of Karachi’s Landhi. These were later identified as the bodies of gang members killed by rival gangsters according to police sources.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Dawn, 2 January 2014

Sri Lanka

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economic giants sail in Indian Ocean: Navy Chief

Sri Lanka Navy Commander Vice-Admiral Jayanath Colombage, delivering the keynote address at the Marine Conversation Conference held in Colombo, said the history was repeating itself as the country had stepped into an era of renaissance with Indian Ocean becoming the key ocean in the 21st century.

He stressed that the country was faced with the problem of Indian fishermen poaching in the post-conflict era and banned fishing methods being employed by the fishers. The Navy Commander said: "We had the ship-building capability and repair capability and we became the centre of the sea-borne trade as great explorers like Ptolemy from the west and Chinese Admiral Zheng Hi from the east have visited here?. Now I believe the history is repeating itself. Now I believe we are going through a marine renaissance. We have the potential to be the centre of the new silk route."

As he pointed out, "When we look at the 19th and 20th centuries, it was the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean which played a pivotal role in the world affairs. Whether it was war, economic development or technological development, those two oceans played a key role." The Navy Commander said, however, that the Indian Ocean was playing an even more important role than the Pacific Ocean in world affairs at the moment as 70 percent of the world oil and 50 percent of world’s container traffic passed through the Indian Ocean.

"And we all know emerging economic giants and emerging maritime powers are either in the Indian Ocean or very close to the Indian Ocean, namely India and China. Hence, the world system, the world economy, the world trade all depends on the Indian Ocean. In this context, where is Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, I would argue the best possible location one can imagine of. We are at the centre of the Indian Ocean equi-distance from the land on to the east and to the west with our southern neighbours being penguins."

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 1 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Indian Housing Project: 10,250 houses completed

The second phase of the Indian Housing Project, involving the construction of 43,000 housing units for IDPs in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, which is being implemented in consultation with and the cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka, has made significant progress by attaining the target of completing 10,000 new houses during 2013, according to a statement issued by the Indian HC in Colombo.

Accordingly, 10,184 houses were completed in the Northern Province during 2013, out of which 1832 were in Jaffna district, 3090 houses in Kilinochchi district, 3540 in Mullaitivu district, 1074 in Mannar district, and 648 in Vavuniya district. In the Eastern Province, 66 houses were completed in Batticaloa district. In addition, 100 houses have been taken up for repairs by providing an assistance of LKR 250,000 for each house.

Till date, an amount of LKR 7.8 billion (approx INR 355 crores) has been directly transferred to the beneficiaries. In a spirit of complete transparency, the entire list of the over 10,000 beneficiaries who have completed their houses during 2013, said a statement from the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Although the second phase of the Indian Housing Project was launched in the Northern Province on 2 October 2012, coinciding with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, construction picked up momentum only by January 2013, due to delays caused by the North-East monsoon from October to December 2012. 16,000 more houses are expected to be completed during the course of 2014, and the remaining 17,000 houses will be completed during 2015.

The housing project was officially launched in the Eastern Province only on 22 May 2013. In Batticaloa district, which is the first district in the province where project activity has commenced, 66 houses have been completed and 400 more houses are nearing completion. Efforts are underway to commence the project in the other parts of the Eastern Province at the earliest.

The second phase of the Indian Housing Project is being implemented under the owner-driven model, under which owner-beneficiaries are directly involved in the construction of their houses, using technical support and financial assistance amounting to LKR 550,000 (approx. INR 255,000) per house in four stages. During the course of the second phase, 39,000 houses will be constructed in the Northern Province and 4,000 houses will be completed in the Eastern Province.

The construction of 43,000 houses for resettlement and rehabilitation of IDPs in Northern and Eastern Provinces is part of the Government of India’s overall commitment to build 50,000 houses, announced by Indian Prime Minister of India Dr Manmohan Singh, during the State visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in June 2010. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on 17 January 2012 between the two governments covering various aspects of project implementation.

The third phase of the Housing Project, involving the construction of 4,000 houses under the agency-driven model for the Indian-origin workers of the Central and Uva Provinces, will be taken up by April 2014 once the arrangements related to the release of land by the concerned plantation companies are in place and the requisite land preparation is completed. The Consultant for implementation of the third phase has already been appointed by the Government of India. The fourth phase, which would involve the construction of 2,000 houses under the agency-driven model, will be taken up in the Northern and Eastern Provinces for the most vulnerable IDPs (who are unable to build their own houses) during 2014.

A Pilot Project involving the construction of 1,000 houses in Northern Province was completed in July 2012 under the agency-driven model, on land provided by the Government of Sri Lanka. The entire project is being implemented under full grant assistance of the Government of India, with a total cost outlay of INR 1372 crore (about LKR 30 billion), making it one of the largest grant assistance projects undertaken by the Government of India in any country, the statement said.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Island, 31 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Release of Bagram prisoners creates problems

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said to have announced the release of 650 prisoners from the Bagram prison, 88 of whom have been declared as ’dangerous’ by officials. Most of these ’dangerous’ prisoners were arrested due to their involvement in suicide missions.

President Karzai’s decision has sparked off much criticism and resentment within Afghanistan. A number of Afghan Parliamentarians denounced the move and claimed that it was an insult to the sacrifices made by the Afghan National Security Personnel in the capture of these prisoners. The parliamentarians declared that they were not kept in the loop by the Presidential Palace and the prisoners should not have been released without a trial.

The issue was taken up by a number of presidential and vice-presidential candidates as well, who accused President Karzai of fuelling security threats to the 2014 Presidential Elections by releasing the high valued prisoners imprisoned at Bagram.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Tolo News, December 31 2013 - January 1 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">’US withdrawal undesirable’

Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US, Jalil Abbas Jilani, has expressed concerns about the possibility of a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said that the ’zero option’ is not a desirable option.

Ambassador Jilani claimed "ven talk of (a total) pullout has started having its impact. Pakistan has started to receive more Afghan refugees than before". The maintenance of Afghan refugees is a huge task and challenge that Pakistan may not be capable of handling.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Pajhwok, January 1 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pre-poll security along India border

Security along India-Bangladesh border was further tightened and paramilitary troops were on high alert this week in wake of the ongoing political turmoil in Bangladesh ahead of the January 5 general election. The Border Security Force (BSF) has been put on high alert in Lankamura area of Tripura and has been asked to remain vigilant to foil any infiltration attempt by the militants.

Recently, fresh violence erupted in Bangladesh ahead of the election, as the opposition, led by Bangladesh Nationalist Party says it will not take part in the vote unless an interim government oversees it and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina steps down. The opposition’s boycott means more than half of 300 Parliament seats will go uncontested, undermining the legitimacy of the election and making it highly unlikely it will do anything to restore stability in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Keeping in view the political instability in Dhaka, India has stepped up security along its border with Bangladesh. India has also decided to keep its border sealed for three days from January 04 ahead of Bangladesh’s January 05 parliamentary election.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Business Standard, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Campaign ends

Campaign for the 10th parliamentary polls ended at 8:00amon January 3, two days ahead of the country’s general election. According to the electoral code of conduct, the candidates will have to conclude their electioneering 48 hours before the voting time.

The national election is scheduled to be held on January 5 in 147 constituencies out of 300 as 153 candidates are all set to be elected unopposed. If anyone violates the ban, the person will be sentenced from two to seven years’ imprisonment with fine, according to a circular distributed by the election commission.

Besides, the EC has also slapped a ban on vehicular movement in the electoral areas between midnight and 11:59 pm on January 5, the polls day. However, candidates, law enforcers, administrative officials and EC-approved poll observers and polling agents will remain out of the purview of the ban. Observers and polling agents will have to use stickers provided by the EC for using their vehicles. These restrictions would not be applicable on highways, the circular added.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Daily Star, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blockade won’t affect poll: CEC

Chief Election Commissioner of Bangladesh Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad said the indefinite blockade called by the opposition parties would not affect the January 5 parliamentary elections. After apprising poll preparations to President Abdul Hamid, the CEC told the media that no vehicle, except authorised ones, will be allowed to ply before the elections.

The Election Commission has already asked the administration for security blankets around all voting centres from January 4. Patrol by mobile teams and striking forces of the law enforcers would be intensified, the EC said.

The opposition alliance enforced a nonstop blockade for the second day on January 2 but modes of transport, other than long-distance buses, were plying as usual, reported the local media. In Dhaka, the situation was almost normal on January 4.

Although the state of violence marked a considerable improvement with the deployment of the army and sustained drives by the joint forces to recover unauthorised arms and explosives, the opposition activists have continued to attack the ruling party leaders and candidates of the elections across the country.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">US envoy meets Khaleda, calls for ending deadlock

The US Ambassador today called on parties in Bangladesh to eschew violence and immediately find a way to hold free and fair polls, as the envoy met BNP chief Khaleda Zia amid continued political impasse in the country. US Ambassador Dan Mozena emphasised on political parties to engage in "serious dialogue" to find an "agreed" way to hold elections.

Mozena and Zia discussed the democratic process, the responsibility of the government to provide political space to the opposition so it can freely express its political views and the responsibility of the opposition to use this space peacefully. Several international bodies, including the UN and EU, along with the US, the UK, India and China have pitched for a dialogue between the ruling Awami League and the BNP-led opposition.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Daily News & Analysis, 31 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">High in WHO’s suicide rate

A special study conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2011 looking at suicides rates in various countries ranked Bhutan as having one of the highest international suicide rates.

Out of the 110 countries that WHO gathered data on, Bhutan stood in the 21st position below Uruguay and just above South Africa. Bhutan got the high ranking based on the fact that that Bhutan’s suicide rate was 16.2 suicides per 100,000 of population. The figure would also place Bhutan in the 6th highest position in the Asia pacific region. What will be a matter of concern for Bhutan is that in 2011 Bhutan’s suicide was comparatively lower at 65 compared to a higher jump to 88 in 2012 and a much higher 93 so far in 2013.

In the then global ranking the most suicidal country at the time was Greenland with 83.0 suicides per 100,000 followed by Lithuania with 31 suicides per 100,000 at second place and South Korea with 28.1 suicides per 100,000 at third place.

The government declined to comment on the issue until they could look at the details of the survey.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Bhutanese, 30 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Press freedom falls 12 steps down

Bhutan was ranked 82 by Reporters Without Borders in its Press Freedom Index. This is 12 places down from its position of 70 in 2012. Bhutan’s ranking in Press Freedom Index increased steadily since 2008 until 2010. Since 2011, however it dropped from 70 in 2011-12 and to 82 out of 179 countries in 2013.

Observers attribute the drop in the ranking to ’restrained’ news because of the media’s heavy reliance on the government for revenue and to the lack of a right to information act in the country. South Asia in 2013 was not a safe place for journalists as violence against media personnel, continued.

< class="text11verdana">Source: Bhutan Observer, 30 December 2013


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Aam Aadmi Govt wins trust vote

Arvind Kejriwal, new Chief Minister of Delhi, has won a crucial trust-vote in the state legislature, demonstrating that he has the support of 38 of Delhi’s 70 legislators, a clear majority.

"The people of Delhi have won today," the Aam Aadmi Party chief said after winning the trust vote this evening. He also promised that his party would spare no one corrupt, whether in the Congress, the BJP or his own government.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 2 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">AgustaWestland chopper deal off

Italian defence group Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI) said on January 2 its AgustaWestland unit welcomed a decision by the Indian Government to take part in an arbitration process over a US$ 770 million helicopter deal, but warned of possible job cuts. On January 1, India cancelled a deal to buy 12 AW101 helicopters from AgustaWestland over what it termed a breach of integrity, but agreed to participate in an arbitration process.

"AgustaWestland ... confirms having received yesterday from India’s Ministry of Defence notification concerning the appointment of an arbitrator from its side," Finmeccanica said in a statement. The state-controlled defence group said it did not believe either the contract termination notice issued by the Indian Defence Ministry or the "show cause notice" provided an adequate basis for taking action against AgustaWestland. It added however it remained committed to working with the Indian government to resolve the issues.

India froze payments for the AW101 helicopters after Finmeccanica’s then-chief executive was arrested in February for allegedly paying bribes to secure the deal. Finmeccanica however said its AgustaWestland unit was ready to put into action a plan, already drawn up, to mitigate risks.

< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 3 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maldivian President on state visit

India and the Maldives agreed to "amicably resolve" all differences, including the cancellation of Indian company GMR’s contract to run Male International Airport, as visiting Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen held talks here with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the two sides inked three MoUs.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his talks he has requested the Maldives government to "amicably settle the issue of the Male International Airport". The previous government of President Mohammed Waheed had cancelled the US$ 500 million contract with Indian firm GMR for the airport in December 2012, leading to strain in ties.

President Yameen, who made his first visit to India after the November election in his country, said bilateral ties "may have had rough patches in the past, but it is the commitment of my administration and my council of ministers that we look forward to a strong, healthy working relationship with Indian enterprise".

< class="text11verdana">Source:, January 2 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Oil rig mishap: Officials to meet Saudi authorities

India deployed staff from its mission in Saudi Arabia to assess the situation in the wake of reports that bodies of two Indians, reported missing after an offshore oil rig of State-run petroleum giant Aramco sank in the Persian Gulf, have been found. "Staff is being deployed by the Embassy to visit the place and meet the officials and offer all assistance," official sources said in New Delhi.

Aramco had earlier said that two Indians and a Bangladeshi worker were missing following Friday’s accident in the waters off the coast of al-Safaniya region, the site of the world’s largest offshore oil field. The remaining 24 crew members suffered "limited injuries" but were rescued, Aramco said.

"They (bodies) were all found. We found two of them late yesterday and another one this morning," Eastern Province Coastguard spokesman Col Khaled al-Arqubi was quoted as saying by foreign media

< class="text11verdana">Source:, 28 December 2013

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Labour pact with Saudi Arabia

India signed a labour cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia on January 2 that will cover about a quarter of the 2.8 million Indian expatriates working there and could be the stepping stone for a more comprehensive pact covering all Indian workers in the Gulf Kingdom, said official sources.

The Agreement on Labour Cooperation for Domestic Service Workers Recruitment, inked by Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi and Saudi Arabian Labour Minister Adel bin Mohammed Fakeih, will be monitored by a committee of senior officials.

"This would go a long way in protecting the interests of Indian workers," said Mr Ravi who also thanked the Saudis for "adopting a humanitarian approach" while implementing the Nitaqat work policy under which Riyadh had cracked down on expatriates who had no proper documentation. While the law caused considerable apprehension in Kerala, in the end only 1.41 million Indians returned home while a larger number found employment in Saudi Arabia during this period. "This important agreement is the result of the excellent relations between the two countries," noted Mr Fakeih.

< class="text11verdana">Source: The Hindu, January 2 2014


< class="heading12boldGeorgia">We have always supported India in every way: Yameen

President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said that the Maldives has always expressed its support to India in every way possible, especially in the international arena.

Speaking at the State banquet hosted by Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in his honour, President Yameen said that a key feature of the bilateral friendship has been the eagerness with which the two countries have supported each other at all times.

"In every hour of national distress, be it a foreign terrorist coup attempt as with the 1988 mercenary attack, or a natural catastrophe such as the 2004 Asian Tsunami, India helped us whole-heartedly and generously in restoring normalcy to the lives of our people. For our part, we have always expressed our support and demonstrated our solidarity to India in every way possible, especially in the international arena."

In his speech, the President noted with immense satisfaction, that the two Governments have agreed on boosting ties at the bilateral, sub-regional and regional levels, which will enable the two countries to realise their collective developmental aspirations, and contribute to peace, prosperity and security in the South Asian region.

"Our two countries and peoples are upbeat over and expectant of the prospects of accelerated development and growth in the coming years. To realise this dream of a more prosperous South Asia, it is of the utmost importance to promote bilateral trade and investment, develop sustainable infrastructure, establish development finance institutions and work closely on economic cooperation in key sectors of growth, all of which have been landmarks of the bilateral exchanges during this visit", said the President.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India will work together for a peaceful Indian Ocean

President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee has said that India wishes to work with Maldives and other like-minded nations to ensure peace in the Indian Ocean Region.

This was mentioned in a statement issued by the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official home of the President of India on Friday following discussions between the Indian President and President Abdulla Yameen after a banquet hosted in the honour of the Maldivian President on Thursday.

The Indian President said that in coming to India on his first State Visit abroad, the President Yameen has reflected the priority that Maldives attaches to the bilateral relationship with India.

"The President said India wishes to work with Maldives and other like-minded nations to ensure peace in the Indian Ocean region. India and Maldives are natural partners in this enterprise," the statement read.

President Pranab Mukherjee said that as India, like Maldives, has had to address the challenges of piracy, smuggling, extremism and religious fundamentalism, both countries would like to see uninterrupted peace and security prevail in the Indian Ocean region.

"India remains fully cognizant of the needs of Maldives in dealing with these issues and is committed to assist in achieving the defence and security objectives of the Government of Maldives," read the Indian President’s statement.

The Indian President also said that the recent Presidential elections and the smooth transition of power is testimony to the strengthening of democracy in Maldives and that India appreciates the efforts of the political leadership in the Maldives in ensuring a free and fair electoral process and a constructive outcome.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 3 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Pact soon on investment promotion and protection

Maldives and India have agreed to consider signing a special agreement related to investment promotion and protection.

The joint statement issued after the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and visiting Maldives President Abdulla Yameen said both leaders reviewed various efforts to promote bilateral trade and investment ties and the development of infrastructure in a manner that contributes to sustainable development in both countries.

In that regard, both sides agreed to consider a Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement at the earliest.

According to the statement, it was agreed that both nations would work towards closer economic cooperation in sectors such as food security, fisheries development, tourism, transportation, information technology, new and renewable energy and communications.

"The Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh reiterated financial support to Maldives for several cooperation and developmental projects, including the setting up of the Maldives Police Academy, the renovation of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) established by Government of India in Male’ and construction of the Composite Training Centre for the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF)," statement said.

It was also agreed to enhance connectivity by air and sea between Kochi (India) and Male’ (Maldives) and other destinations as available under the Air Services Agreement between Maldives and India. "The two leaders also observed that direct flights between Mumbai/Delhi-Male’ sectors should be operationalised at the earliest," statement said.

< class="text11Verdana">Source: Haveeru Online, 4 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt to discuss compensation with GMR: President

President Abdulla Yameen has said the government will negotiate a compensation with GMR Group for prematurely annulling the agreement to develop and manage the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). He made the statement while talking to the media at INIA after concluding his three-day State visit to India.

The President said that arrangements have been made for senior officials of GMR to visit Maldives and discuss the matter of compensation soon. However, Maldives can only award a financial compensation, the President said.

"We are not talking about handing the airport’s management back to GMR. Apart from that, I have said a compensation to make amends can be considered," President Yameen said. He said he hopes Maldives will be able to accommodate the compensation required.

"Both sides have to discuss and come to an agreement over how much we must pay and if we can pay in instalments. It is certain that we have to compensate, even if we see through the arbitration process," President Yameen said. The President said he hopes for an out-of-court settlement soon, as the Indian Government had sincerely requested that the GMR issue be solved amicably.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 4 January 2014

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Hoarafushi MP decides to leave MDP

Hoarafushi Member of Parliament Ahmed Rasheed has decided to leave the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Speaking to Sun today, MP Ahmed Rasheed accused the founders of MDP of hogging the party’s ideology and said that it is unreasonable to deny support to the new government at this point in time.

"The MDP supporters believe an ideology of a particular group. MDP is being government as if they own that ideology. MDP parliamentary group also functions according to their will. I don’t want to stay exhausted to one single ideology," MP Ahmed Rasheed said.

Answering criticism for breaking the three-line during the approval vote for President Yameen’s cabinet on 30 December, MP Ahmed Rasheed said that there is no regulation stating it mandatory to vote according to the whip. All 15 members of the cabinet were approved when seven MDP MPs voted against the whip.

< class="text11verdana">Source: SunOnline, 4 January 2014

< class="brown12verdana">Contributors:
Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy;
Nepal: Pratnashree Basu;
Pakistan: Taruni Kumar;
Afghanistan: Aryaman Bhatnagar;
Bhutan & Myanmar: Mihir Bhonsale;
India:Ananya Pandey

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale

Mihir Bhonsale was a Junior Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme and Indian Neighbourhood Initiative of ORF.

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