India and The Maldives have signed a Maritime Security and Development Administration and Maintenance of the Maldivian National Defence Forces. This will allow New Delhi to station troops in the island of Uthuru Thalafalhu (UTF). The agreement was signed when the Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishanker visited the Maldivian capital of Male on February [...]


Indian troops to freely operate in Maldivian island of Uthuru Thalafalhu


India and The Maldives have signed a Maritime Security and Development Administration and Maintenance of the Maldivian National Defence Forces. This will allow New Delhi to station troops in the island of Uthuru Thalafalhu (UTF).

India-Maldives defence cooperation: (Pic: Twitter @Dr S. Jaishankar)

The agreement was signed when the Indian External Affairs Minister Subramanyam Jaishanker visited the Maldivian capital of Male on February 21. Placing their signatures were Dr Jaishankar and The Maldivian Defence Minister Uza Mariya Ahmed Didi.

A US$ 50 million credit from India’s Exim Bank will help develop facilities in the UTF island. Maldivian newspapers have reported that in terms of the agreement, Indian troops will be permitted to carry weapons within the UTF island.

Citing the agreement, the Maldives Journal said one of the articles allowed Indian troops to “carry arms and other such equipment.” The clause also allows Indian military personnel to use and operate the communication facilities to carry out maritime surveillance and “security” related tasks. According to the journal this is what the provision says:

“The military personnel of the Government of the Republic of India on active duty at the Facilities shall be allowed to carry arms and other such equipment and use and operate such communication facilities as necessary in pursuance of joint objectives of maritime security and marine surveillance and any other task that may be assigned to them in support of activities described in the Agreement.”

The agreement will remain in force for 30 years with provision to extend
it to further a 30 years if both countries agree.

The Journal said that Indian vessels and aircraft would have unrestricted free access to berth or land at UTF. They would be afforded full diplomatic immunity and exempted from paying taxes.

The Press, another Maldivian media outlet quoted Major General Ahmed Shamal as saying that the agreement signed between the Maldives and India would further enhance the operational capabilities of the defence forces and further bolster the operational capabilities of the Coastguard itself. He said the “signed agreement” was the final product of years of discussions on the matter and the talks on the agreement began back in 2013.

The UTF island is a former Municipal land fill and was known as “Rubbish Island.” It is located west of the Maldivian capital of Male in the Kaafu Atoll.

President to hold defence talks

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will chair a meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence on March 25 (Thursday).  To be held in Parliament, the meeting is expected to discuss several matters relating to defence and security.

557 Lankans died building Qatar world cup stadium;  SLFEB guards its goalposts

The international media recently highlighted the plight of the workers for the construction of the football stadiums in Qatar and related projects required for the World Cup next year.

One of the news reports say more than 6000 people from South Asian countries have sacrificed their lives during the past ten years. Some of them are reported to have collapsed due to the excessive heat conditions, while others have died from other complications.

The report says among those who died were 557 Sri Lankans. Among other sources quoted have been the Sri Lankan Embassy in Qatar.

The report says though some of the deaths have been described as “natural deaths” such classifications are made without an autopsy.

The Sunday Times tried to clarify these reports from the Sri Lanka Foreign Employment Bureau (SLFEB) which is supposed to be looking into the welfare of Lankan migrant workers.

As many as 16 calls were given to the Deputy General Manager Mangala Randeniya, who is the spokesman for the Bureau, for three days leading up to Friday. He had not been able to provide the simple statistic of the total number of deaths of Sri Lankan migrant workers reported from Qatar during this period.

Mr Randeniya claimed he had to find the figure and it was taking time. A clear sign that the SLFEB does not have the basic statistics.

The SLFEB should have been responding to the reports much earlier as the figures used by the international media will go down as accurate.

No wonder the Bureau has been drawing criticism in the recent month for the failure
to investigate.

Crisis at Texas border: Republican leaders allege Sri Lankans  among ‘‘terrorists’’ seeking immigration

US Congressman John Katko (Republican of New York) has claimed that the US-Mexico border is being exploited by “terrorists” due to the immigration policies of President Joe Biden. And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Republican of California), who joined Mr Katko on a fact-finding trip with other House Republicans to the border near El Paso in Texas, echoed similar sentiments.  Mr McCarthy said he spoke to customs and border protection agents who briefed the GOP representatives before a news conference and claimed that those reaching the US-Mexico border include not just Central American migrants, but also people from Iran, Yemen, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey and other countries.

If the US watch list is meant to track “terrorists”, the only Sri Lankans who fall into that category are Tamil Tigers, past or present, whose LTTE was declared a terrorist organisation in the US.

One Sri Lankan said it gives a bad name to our home country giving the mistaken impression that Sri Lanka is still home for terrorists and militants — such as those from Yemen, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey. One suggestion to keep Sri Lanka out of it is for Tamil Tigers caught at the Mexican border to declare
they are from Eelam!

Political victimisation: Parliament to debate report on April 6 and 7

A debate on the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Political Victimisation will be held in Parliament on April 6 and 7, the House Business Committee has decided.  Opposition members had sought a longer period but government party members pointed out that they too had been politically victimised.


Former US intelligence agent given sanctuary by Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Hong Kong

The warmth and care for others is an intrinsic trait among Sri Lankans.

That is seen mostly among a vast number of those in the lower middle class and is worthy of mention. Even if they do not have enough to go around, they un-grudgingly share whatever they have.

This virtue is better illustrated by Edward Snowden, the American citizen, a former member of the US intelligence community and whistle blower, in his latest book Permanent Record.

Mr Snowden revealed a trove of documents that provided a vital public window into the National Security Agency and its international intelligence associates secret mass surveillance programmes and capabilities. They were to generate unprecedented worldwide attention on intrusions into privacy and digital security and sparked global debate.

He worked in various roles within the US intelligence community, including serving undercover for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overseas. He was an infrastructure analyst when he left his home and family in Hawaii to expose what he possessed in May 2013. After travelling to Hong Kong, he revealed secret documents and the NSA’s surveillance programmes. He is now in Russia.  When his exposures came one after another while in Hong Kong, a person volunteered to take him to two local attorneys, Robert Tibbo and Jonathan Man. When there was a hunt on for him, these were the two who helped him to leave the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong. This is the first time Snowden himself has commented on his unexpected Sri Lankan hosts. This is what he says:

“I like Robert – to have been his client is to be his friend for life. He’s an idealist and a crusader, a tireless champion of lost causes. Even more impressive than his lawyering, was his creativity in finding safe houses. While journalists were scouring every five-star hotel in Hong Kong, he took me to one of the poorest neighbourhoods of the city and introduced me to some of his other clients, a few of the nearly twelve thousand forgotten refugees in Hong Kong – under Chinese pressure, the city has maintained a dismal one per cent approval rate for permanent residency status. I wouldn’t usually name them, but since they have bravely identified themselves to the press, I will: Vanessa Mae Bondalian Rodel from the Philippines, and Ajith Pushpakumara, Supun Thilina Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, all from Sri Lanka.”

“These unfailingly kind and generous people came through with charitable grace. The solidarity they showed me was not political. It was human, and I will be forever in their debt. They didn’t care who I was, or what dangers they might face by helping me, only that there was a person in need. They knew all too well what it meant to be forced into a mad escape from mortal threat, having survived ordeals far in excess of anything I’d dealt with and hopefully ever will; torture by the military, rape and sexual abuse. They let an exhausted stranger into their homes – and when they saw my face on TV, they didn’t falter. Instead, they smiled, and took the opportunity to reassure me of their hospitality.”

“Though their resources were limited – Supun and Nadeeka, Vanessa and two little girls lived in a crumbling, cramped apartment smaller than my room at Mira – they shared everything they had with me, and they shared it unstintingly, refusing my offers to re-imburse them for the cost of taking me so vociferously that I had to hide money in the room to get them to accept it. They fed me, they let me bathe, they let me sleep, and they protected me. I will never be able to explain what it meant to be given so much by those with so little, to be accepted by them without judgement as I perched in corners like a stray street cat, skimming the Wi-Fi of distant hotels with a special antenna that delighted the children.”

“Their welcome and friendship was a gift, for the world to even have such people is a gift, and so it pains me that, all these years later, the cases of Ajith, Supun, Nadeeka and Nadeeka’s daughter are still pending. The admiration I feel for these folks is matched only by the resentment I feel towards the Hong Kong bureaucrats, who continue to deny them the basic dignity of asylum….”

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