offers to help Maldives as casualties rise
The Island, Colombo
September 24, 2003
by Amal Jayasinghe
Sept. 23 (AFP) — Sri Lanka has offered to help the Maldives restore
law and order after the Indian Ocean atoll nation suffered unprecedented
civil unrest sparked by a prison riot that killed three inmates, officials
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is visiting New York, spoke
by telephone Sunday with Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom and
offered "any assistance", including help to restore security,
official sources in the Maldives said.
Unprecedented mob violence gripped the Maldivian capital of Male on Saturday
following the deaths of two convicts at a nearby prison. A third man wounded
in the prison died at a hospital in Colombo Monday.
Sri Lanka’s Interior Minister John Amaratunga said there had been
no formal request for help, but he was ready to extend assistance in keeping
with good neighbourly relations.
"If there is a request, we will have to consider it very seriously,"
Amaratunga told AFP. "Certainly being a neighbour, our duty is to
give them whatever assistance they request."
Officials in the Maldives said the number of wounded from Friday’s
riot at Maafushi prison, located on a tiny coral island some 45 minutes
by speed boat from Male, had risen to 18 and some of them had been flown
to Sri Lanka for treatment.
The mob violence that followed the prison deaths, as residents accused
police of complicity, has never been seen before in the Maldives, a major
Mobs attacked police and torched the high court, the elections office
and several police vehicles.
Gayyoom Monday appointed his minister of construction and public works,
Umar Zahir to take charge of the prison and sacked five members of his
National Security Service (NSS) who were at the jail, placing them under
The cause of the prison unrest is to be investigated by a commission
appointed by the president.
He also pledged to prosecute those behind the rampage in Male, a 1.6-kilometre-long
(one mile) low-lying coral island protected by a wall of concrete tetra
Gayyoom’s spokesman Husain Amir said the situation in Male was
back to normal Tuesday.
"The situation is normal, everything is back to normal," Amir
said when contacted by telephone.
Residents said the police had since Monday begun rounding up those suspected
of involvement in the violence.
Maldivian authorities have stressed the unrest was unrelated to the re-election
bid of Gayyoom, who is set to win a sixth five-year term in November in
the archipelago of 1,192 coral islands with a population of 250,000 Sunni
The mobs attacked a day after elections commissioner announced that Gayyoom
would run against four other candidates. Gayyoom is considered almost
certain to win.
Sri Lanka assembled a team of elite police commandos to help put down
a November 1988 coup attempt in the Maldives led by a disgruntled businessman,
but before they could be sent, the attacking force of Tamil mercenaries
The Maldives is a one-hour flight southwest of Sri Lanka.
There is already co-operation between the police departments of the two
countries with Sri Lanka providing assistance to the island in a crackdown
against the smuggling of narcotics.