Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Situation critical: Hell in paradise

By: Ibrahim Kashif Naseer

The second of November 1988 was no different from any other day to the citizens of Maldives, a country of roughly 300,000 people. Known to the world for its natural beauty, the islanders enjoy a peaceful way of life.
Male, the capital city of the Maldives is a crowded island city with a population of nearly 80,000 people. In the 1980s, Maldives was in a state of economic prosperity with a booming million-dollar tourism industry. No one in this island nation, including its leaders and army was aware of the danger that was approaching them.
Hundreds of miles away, rebels fighting a civil war in Sri Lanka were making plans for an invasion of this small island state. Unaware of the horrific events that would unfold in a matter of hours the people of Male went to sleep.
It was 4am in the morning; a young corporal in the Maldivian army was at patrol duty at the front gate of the army headquarters located close to the Marine Drive of the capital city. Corporal Hussein Adam was unaware that his actions in matter of minutes would save his country from a future that no man desires.
Just off the coast of the capital city Male, terrorists armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenades, and high explosives were getting ready for an invasion of the small island state. They had travelled for several days in stolen freighters for this deadly mission.
It was about 4.15am in the morning of 3rd November 1988. Two vessels approached Male harbour boarding 80 well-armed Tamil terrorists, who were determined to break the defensive barriers of the Maldives and capture its leaders. They had prepared for this mission for several months in terrorist training camps in the neighbouring country of Sri Lanka. As soon as they reached the jetty, they divided into small groups and headed to their destinations, which included the headquarters of the army and the Presidential Palace.
Within few minutes after landing on the capital city, a group of terrorists launched a frontal attack on the army headquarters. Their mission was to use the “shock and awe” created by the attack as an advantage to storm and infiltrate the army headquarters. Corporal Hussein Adam responded to the enemy fire, the second he heard it. Armed with an Ak-47 rifle and just one spare magazine, he fired relentlessly at the enemy. This split second decision and decisive action halted the enemy and pinned them down.
Under fire, the gates of the headquarters were soon closed but the young corporal engaged with the enemy was unable to make it through. Locked outside with just one spare magazine of ammo, the young corporal had two choices; either stay and fight or run for his life like his partner did. As he reloaded his Kalashnikov assault rifle, he looked at the enemy head on and fired his last rounds knowing that it was up to him to hold the enemy back. In a matter of seconds, as he ran out of ammo enemy bullets sprayed on him.
Inside the headquarters, the sleeping soldiers were awakened by the sound of gunfire. Within a few seconds, soldiers in well-fortified positions engaged the enemy. But by then the terrorists had laid siege to the headquarters cutting it off from rest of the world. By that time, the terrorist leaders, two of whom were Maldivians, knew that the initial stage of the terrorist plot had failed. They were not ready for a prolonged fight but set up their invasion plans on a blitzkrieg tactic.
As one group of the terrorist laid siege to the army headquarters, other small groups of terrorists started to sweep the capital city to find and capture senior figures of the Maldivian government while some groups were on a sabotage spree to destroy communications in an attempt to cut off the nation from the rest of the world.
In the Presidential Palace, the then President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom was awakened by the sound of gunfire, unaware of the events taking place. He was soon escorted under fire into a safe house located a few blocks away from the palace. President Maumoon was just re-elected into office for a third term and was popular among the Maldivian people by then.
It was dawn on 3rd November 1988, in the gun battles that raged for almost three hours now; Maldivian army had miraculously killed the three leaders of the terrorists, leaving them in disarray. Pinned down, all their leaders dead and the Maldivian army strengthening their counter attack, the terrorists resorted to hostage takings and using civilians as human shields to force the army to surrender. By this time terrorists had seized a mosque located next to the headquarters and taken the worshipers hostage and were using the elevated position to fire on the soldiers. But if they were to defeat the Maldivian army they had to find a point of entrance. Desperate, they used dynamite to blow up the thick walls of the headquarters. As soon as the dynamite blew and before the dust of the explosion settled, the soldiers inside directed machine gun fire through the large gap that was created.
Inside the army headquarters, a Reconnaissance patrol team was being gathered to storm out of the besieged headquarters in a bid to collect intelligence on the ongoing situation and determine the enemy strength. Leading this patrol team was a young Captain named Moosa Ali Jaleel. Young and enthusiastic, this graduate of royal marines’ all arms commando training in United Kingdom volunteered for the daring mission. The first attempt to storm out was made on a bus but was unsuccessful as the gate of the army headquarters was jammed by enemy fire and resulting explosions.
Meanwhile, in his safe house, President Gayoom sent distress calls to friendly states including the United States, UK, India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka, all of whom had considered the call. Unfortunately, for the US, its seventh battle group stationed in Diego Garcia was in a training exercise too far away to react in such a short notice. However, US Marines in Diego Garcia were put on alert and were told to standby for rapid deployment to the Maldives but their mission was aborted as, within hours, Indian Prime Minister Ragiv Gandhi assured President Gayoom that Indian paratroops were on their way to the rescue.
Inside the army headquarters, the reconnaissance patrol team was getting ready for another attempt. This time the attempt was being made on foot with another small gate located at the rear end of the headquarters. The soldiers soon gave away a wave of covering fire to give the team a chance to run out. Captain Jaleel stormed out firing his Kalashnikov but only nine members of his eleven-member team could come out, three of whom died under fire as the terrorists intensified firing on their position. With Indian troops on their way to reinforce the Maldivian army all they had to do was hold their positions. The team completed their mission and entered the headquarters through the same gate. Captain Jaleel was injured by shrapnel wounds in the fighting that followed but continued to fight.
With victory not in sight, the terrorists turned against the two leaders left alive. Frustrated and outnumbered they started looting the local shops for food. By the dusk of the same day, with US reconnaissance aircrafts circling Male, the terrorists made up another plan – this time to escape on a Maldivian shipping liner docked outside Male. By nightfall, this plan was in full motion that they transferred one cabinet minister, his wife, a prominent businessman, and several other local people to the ship as hostages.
By midnight, Indian paratroopers had secured the international airport next to the capital city and were soon heading stealthily in small boats towards the Presidential Palace on the adjoining island. Then there was an eerie silence broken only by the occasional landing of the Indian air force aircrafts. Around 3am, the menacing silence was shattered by the sound of firing of small and medium arms. It seemed there was an exchange of fire between a ship heading for high seas and the Indian troops on the island. By daybreak, the mercenaries fled and the situation was under control. The Indian Air Force and the naval aircrafts launched another operation to track down the vessel carrying the terrorists and the hostages.
The cargo ship taken hostage by the terrorists was detected and tracked by Indian maritime reconnaissance aircrafts, and two Indian Naval vessels, the INS Tir and INS Godavari, were able to capture the absconding ship. The terrorists were demanding the Indians not to follow them and when the warning was ignored, two hostages were executed point blank. Sea King helicopters, from one of the naval vessels, dropped depth charges to deter evasion. On the morning of 6th November 1988, the Indian Marine Strike Force (now known as the Marine Commando Force - MARCOS) commandos boarded the vessel and took control without any resistance from the terrorists.
In the capital city Male, the government and the people of Maldives were still in a state of shock and trauma. Several points were still unclear, including the number of casualties, the identity and number of the Tamil and Sinhalese-speaking men who tried to topple President Gayoom, and the identity of their leaders. Tamil and Sinhalese are the languages of the main ethnic groups in Sri Lanka, an island nation some 400 miles east of the Maldives. But a clear picture of the events soon started emerging. The terrorists who belonged to a Sri Lankan rebel group called “PLOTE” were working with two Maldivians to overthrow the legitimately elected government. In the fighting that took place, 19 people died and dozens more were wounded. But to this day several key questions remain unanswered about the events that took place.
Corporal Hussein Adam, aged just 19, who gave his life for his country was awarded highest military decorations and is still today regarded by the people as the “Hero of Maldives.” It was undoubtedly his actions that saved the day. The people of Maldives still mark the 3rd of November each year as the “Day of Victory.”
Experts who study this event are divided about the motive of the PLOTE but soon after the event international media put forward different conspiracy theories, speculations and unfounded allegations. Some of those allegations point that the People’s Liberation Organisation was reported to had been offered at least US$1 million – some estimates run as high as US$10 million – by a foreign government to overthrow President Gayoom’s government.
But other experts say they are not certain whether money was the only reward the terrorists were to get for their part in the coup. There have been suggestions that the Tamils may have been promised one of the small Maldivian islands as a base, possibly for narcotics smuggling and their war against the Sri Lankan government.
Much changed after the failed coup attempt; the Maldivian army itself was reformed and strengthened to face such threats in future. Until then the army was just a paramilitary force designed to quell domestic violence and a tool to establish law and order. But yet the world and India itself had not learned from this threat of seaborne terrorism. Exactly 21 years after the terrorist plot in Maldives was foiled another band of terrorists launched a similar much more devastating terrorist attack – this time on the financial heart of India, Mumbai.

Aviation in the Maldives

By: Ibrahim Kashif Naseer

Maldives known as garlands of the Indian Ocean is made up of several archipelagoes that consist of more than 1200 islands. Only two percent of the whole country is land the rest of the 98 percent is covered by the sea.
Since its independence from the British colonial rule over the last four decades Maldives has seen a dramatic and steady development in its transportation infrastructure. Most notably its aviation transportation has developed at a remarkable speed despite setbacks over the last decade.
The first airport in Maldives was inaugurated in April 12 1966. Since then, every effort has been made to upgrade the airport to today's standards.  Today known as Male’ international airport it acts as a gate way into Maldives. Thousands of tourists travel through and out of the country each year. Since it first came into service the Male’ international airport has undergone three major upgrading projects.
With the introduction and expansion of tourism the need for air transport became vital especially with the absence of a reliable public transportation system. With the introduction of tourism three decades ago, the need for air transport became vital, especially with the absence of a reliable public transportation system. The aviation infrastructure has expanded today. Currently Maldives operates five airports two of which are recognized by the International civil aviation organization as international airports.
A former British air base nicknamed by them as the “Coral Command” has recently been transformed to an international airport known today as “Gan international airport”.  Several other airports are soon to undergo up grading projects that would hopefully bring them up to day standards.
Maldives has operated its own flag carrier airlines since the early 1970’s. The national flag carrier “Air Maldives” traveled to 10 destinations worldwide but during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990’s the airlines announced a sudden bankruptcy and was dissolved.  Despite this tragic set back the aviation sector has seen a recovery over the last decade. When “Air Maldives” was dissolved it had a fleet of five air craft’s consisting of three airbus A-310’s and two Donier Do 228 aircrafts used to provide regional services.
Since then a new player has come into service and has been expanding its services although a full recovery has not been yet achieved. The “Maldivian” is today the national airlines of the Maldives. It has a fleet of five aircrafts that consists of four bombardier Q series aircrafts and a Dornier 228. Since its formation after the fatal bankruptcy of the air Maldives until recently the Maldivian locally known as island aviation was providing air services inside the Maldives, but today it operates flights to neighboring countries like Sri Lanka and India.
Maldives has the largest fleet of seaplanes in the world. These planes act as a transportation system between the Male’ international airport and the tourist resorts. These planes are easy to operate in a country where 98% of the territory is water. Maldivian air taxi is the main provider of the sea plane services in the Maldives and has a fleet of more than 22 sea planes.
Three domestic airports are also located in the mid south and north of the island chains. These airports are being developed in an attempt to decentralize the country. All major shipments of all commodities that are airlifted into the country come through the Male' International Airport.
The domestic airports have proven beneficial to a lot of citizens. They are situated in the islands of Hanimaadhoo, Kaadehdhoo and Kahdhoo. The two international airports also provide domestic flights around the country which sums up the total number of domestic airports in the country to five.
The provision of better aviation in the country would surely boost up the pace of development. However, the growth of air transport would only benefit along with a reasonably developed sea transportation network. As the Maldives comprise a vast area of ocean with isolated islands, travelling via sea is vital for the transportation link in the country to be efficient.

Dheli Maali

By: Zueshan Ali

Marching to a slow beat chanting rhymes, ash-covered men emerge from the woods. The ‘Dheli Maali’ festivity has begun. They walk on slowly, beating drums. Led by an elder holding a spear called ‘mada’,
‘Dheli Maali’ are men who act out a scenario where they are the saviors of the island who have arrived to expel an imaginary beast. Cautious in their movements, they look from side to side hoping to catch a glimpse of the beast.
Weeks prior to the ‘Alha Eid’ (Muslim Festival of Sacrifice), Maldivians collect and beat coconut husks, which are then burnt in remote areas of the woods; in preparation for the main event. Then, smeared in layers of ash, wearing skirts woven out of palm leaves, young men come out, ready to ‘hunt’. Twelve chosen men, walk in two lines side by side, following their leader with great zeal. Sharp eyes searching the surrounding, attentive ears listening for any signs of danger around them while they walk the sands of the island; searching for the predator they want as prey: ‘Namuru’ (a spotted animal).This March proceeds slowly, as the first ‘Namuru’ song is sung lazily to a slow beat:

“Dheli hahdhaa valaku therein nerunu maali”
(Maali’s decorated with ash in the woods),
“Balaa belumah kathunnah rivethi vaane”
(People will find them beautiful to look at),
“Fari hahdhaa valaku therein nerunu maali”
(Maali’s dressed up in the woods and brought out),
“Balaa belumah kathunnah rivethi vaane”
(People find them beautiful to look at).

 As time passes, the mood starts to change. The lazy drum beat picks up momentum, footsteps quicken. The men start marching faster, ever more determined. The atmosphere becomes dense with anticipation. The men are increasingly readier to hunt. In a wild frenzy, the whole environment changes as the drums beat faster and so does hearts. The slow introductory song dies down and is taken over by a more exotic one giving away a sense of urgency:

“Lamuge aa emme thakun hamdhu sana kiyaa dhulun”
(People of the universe; sing praise!)
“Namuru annaane thi hey ronee?”
(Are you crying because ‘Namuru’ will come?).

Meanwhile, crawling cunningly on all fours, the ‘Namuru’ roams around the island. It is a masked man covered in ash. This is personification of the ancient beast hunted by our forefathers from Africa. It looks for none other than the leader of the hunters. It goes about slowly, petrifying anyone who sees it. Knowing little of what fate will befall on it, it prowls like a proud monarch unknowingly surveying its imminent doom.
The time has finally arrived when the men and the ‘Namuru’ are face to face. Then, the much anticipated duel begins to take place. May the best man win? The twelve chosen men in ash surround the beast, blocking any path of escape. The leader and the beast attack each other in a game of death. Drums beat faster as the men cheer for their leader. After vigorous fighting, the man stabs the beast which succumbs to his spear. Drums beat all around, songs are sung fast and loud as the men drag the ‘Namuru’ to the sea to drown it. The men then bath in the shallow waters after which they walk onto the island, emerging victorious as saviors of the island. It is their moment of glory.
For centuries, this practice has been a common feature of Eid celebrations. Although there are some variations in the way it is performed, the ‘Dheli Maali’ festivity is held throughout the country. It is a men-oriented game. The whole island gathers to watch ‘Namuru’ being hunted. In some islands like Maafaru in Noonu Atoll, the ‘Namuru’ goes around the island scaring everyone before it is hunted. People of all ages take delight in being scared by the masked man playing ‘Namuru’, watching it being hunted and drowned.
The origin of this festival is unknown. But it is believed to have come from the Africans who settled in the Maldives.