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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07COLOMBO289 2007-02-15 10:48:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Colombo
Cable title:  

MALDIVES: STRATEGY FOR ENGAGING ONE OF ISLAMIC

Tags:   PGOV PREL MASS MARR ECON ETRD AMGT OEXC KPAO 
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VZCZCXRO8623
PP RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0289/01 0461048
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151048Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5466
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0222
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 9908
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 6860
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 4930
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3548
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0657
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 3637
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2717
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7429
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0326
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 5150
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1819
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 COLOMBO 000289 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS, SCA/EX, M, RM, PM, AND R

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL MASS MARR ECON ETRD AMGT OEXC KPAO
MV
SUBJECT: MALDIVES: STRATEGY FOR ENGAGING ONE OF ISLAMIC
WORLD'S MOST PRO-U.S. COUNTRIES

REF: A. COLOMBO 135

B. 2006 COLOMBO 1910

C. 2006 COLOMBO 1862

D. 2006 COLOMBO 1827

E. 2006 COLOMBO 1443

F. 2005 COLOMBO 2144

G. 2005 COLOMBO 1881

SUMMARY
---------



1. (SBU) Maldives is a moderate, pro-American Islamic
country that cooperates on American military objectives and
is responsive to US advice on reform and openness. In a
generation, it has gone from being South Asia's poorest
country to that with the region's highest per-capita income.
However, Maldives is at a crossroads as halting progress on
allowing greater pluralism, a young population with a rising
drug problem, growing Islamic extremism, and economic strains
on its poorer citizens, pose significant challenges to
President Gayoom and his country's pro-Western outlook.
Despite these obstacles, progress remains possible. The US
can play a significant role in supporting Maldives' efforts
to achieve democratic and economic reform.



2. (SBU) Post has drafted a Mission-wide strategy to assist
Maldives as it evolves toward democracy, bearing in mind that
USG financial resources will likely be severely constrained.
The Embassy seeks Washington's support to bolster these
efforts, bring about sustainable democratic reform, and help
the country to confront its other challenges. The Ambassador
and other senior US officials should urge the Maldivian
president, reformists in the government, and opposition
leaders to work together to move the reform process forward.
USTR, State and other agencies such as USTDA, in tandem with
the Embassy Economic Section, should promote Maldivian
openness to US investments, engage regionally-based science,
environment, and agriculture officers, and determine whether
Maldives would welcome a Trade and Investment Framework
Agreement. DAO and ODC, with cooperation from military
officials, should seek to further boost military cooperation
through exchanges, joint exercises, and ship visits. In
addition, Washington can leverage Public Diplomacy's modest
Fulbright program and also work with the New Delhi-based
English Language Officer to assist the Maldives Ministry of
Education as it plans to open the country's first-ever
university in 2008, promote educational opportunities in the
US, and use the International Visitor Fellows Program to meet
democratization objectives and combat the rise in Islamic
extremism. Per ref D, Management Section is preparing cost
estimates for a proposed American Presence Post (APP). End
summary.



--------------------------


SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES:
THREATS TO DEMOCRATIC PROGRESS?


--------------------------



Political Progress Slow


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Despite its strong Western orientation, this small
Islamic nation has faced a number of challenges since it
began an indigenous push for democratization starting in June


2004. Political parties, legally recognized for the first
time in June 2005, have little maturity or understanding of
their roles. The public, though engaged, remains broadly
unaware of civic rights and responsibilities, in large part
because social studies is not taught in schools. Both the
government and the fledgling opposition Maldivian Democratic

COLOMBO 00000289 002 OF 006


Party (MDP) have over-promised and under-delivered on reform
commitments, leaving many citizens feeling frustrated and
disenfranchised.



4. (SBU) Despite some potential for cross-party cooperation,
progress on reform has been slow. In March 2006, the
government published a "Roadmap for Reform" and subsequently
introduced several bills to parliament that remained mired in
committees. The government blamed opposition agitators for
delaying the process, while the MDP complained that many of
the bills codified existing poor practices and accused
government-appointed parliamentarians of impeding genuine
change.

Arrests, Violence, Mar Political Demonstrations


--------------------------

--



5. (SBU) Since political rallies were first legally permitted
in 2005, tensions frequently have flared up during such
demonstrations. The government often mischaracterizes reform
activists as terrorists or seditious instigators attempting
to incite violence; the opposition, for its part,
deliberately provokes security forces and then accuses the
police of using heavy-handed tactics to break up lawful
gatherings.

Economic Pressures


--------------------------





6. (SBU) Maldives' small but rapidly growing economy offers
significant untapped potential for US exports and investment
in the tourism, aviation, energy, and other sectors.
Nevertheless, economic concerns have created some strain in
Maldives. According to a 2006 census, unemployment in
Maldives is at 14.4 percent, while the country imports 53,000
foreign workers, primarily to carry out construction projects
and staff resorts. Half the country is under the age of
fifteen (see para 7). The lack of higher education capacity
has given extremists from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan an
opening to train young Maldivians who have then returned to
lead a growing extremist strain that is critical of the more
moderate, pro-Western Islam practiced by the President and
his Cabinet. Many locals, reluctant to break up family units
by moving to resort islands to work, depend heavily on the
fishing industry for income. Many have left their home
islands to seek economic opportunities in Male', an island
two square kilometers in size and home to 103,000 people.
Male' is teeming with young people, some unemployed and many
with substance abuse problems. It has become a flash-point
for protests and occasional violence.

Rising Drug Problem


--------------------------





7. (SBU) Social pressures have exacerbated the political
tensions; 50 percent of the population is under the age of
15, and there are no universities and few career options
within Maldives. Disaffected young people have increasingly
turned to drug use; in January 2007 the UNICEF Resident
Representative in Male' estimated up to 25,000 people, or 7
percent of the population, regularly use hard drugs, normally
heroin in the form of smoked "brown sugar." The average age
of first use is 11 years old. In the small, tightly-knit
island community, nearly every family has been affected by
drug use in some way. UNICEF also cited anecdotal evidence
that intravenous drug use may be on the rise, possibly in
prison populations as well as within the general public. The
high risk of needle-sharing, especially among users in jail,
is potentially a major public health threat, UNICEF assessed.


COLOMBO 00000289 003 OF 006


Potential Islamic Extremism


--------------------------





8. (SBU) Another emerging concern is the rise of Islamic
extremism. From June of 2006 onward, interlocutors from
across the political spectrum have worried that a
fundamentalist strain of Islam antithetical to Maldives'
traditional culture may be taking root. The Islamist Adalath
(Justice) Party, which promotes "Koran over Constitution"
ideals, has made small inroads, using its role as a political
party to circumvent strict laws that limit public
proselytizing. While the Adalath Party came in a distant
third in a December 2005 parliamentary by-election, in
January 2007 several Embassy contacts reported the Adalath
Party was gaining in popularity. Adalath officials remained
unresponsive to several Embassy requests to meet with them.



9. (SBU) In January 2007, the Information Minister worried
that a small group of zealots felt even the Adalath Party was
religiously lax, and the Attorney General was concerned the
Supreme Islamic Council led by the Chief Justice was not
providing an adequate counter-balance to fundamentalist
influences. A female opposition MP expressed worry that on
at least one island, the community was pressuring women to
wear a full veil, formerly almost never seen in the moderate
atoll nation (ref A). A number of contacts also noted that
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan offered scholarships to madrassahs,
and when Maldivians returned from such education programs,
they were far more extremist in their practices and beliefs.
Several times throughout 2006 and early this year, senior
Maldivian officials requested that the US publicize
educational opportunities in America and offer more cultural
exchanges in order to provide a moderating voice highlighting
democratic values.



--------------------------


ADVOCATING U.S. INTERESTS
ON A CONSTRAINED BUDGET


--------------------------





10. (SBU) Recognizing that USG resources are limited, there
are nonetheless numerous ways that the United States can help
Maldives bring about sustainable democratic reform, and
confront its other challenges so that the country maintains
its pro-American outlook and orientation. We recommend the
USG focus its efforts in the areas of promoting democratic
reform, enhancing the professionalism and pro-Western
orientation of the security forces, promoting US exports, and
leveraging our public diplomacy toolkit to help promote the
role of women and educational opportunities in the US to
counteract the efforts of Islamic extremists.

Engagement on Political Reform


--------------------------





11. (SBU) President Gayoom, in power since 1978, announced
the reform agenda in 2004. He maintains a strong influence
on the judiciary and legislature, so will remain the most
important catalyst in the reform process. The Ambassador and
other senior USG officials, through periodic visits and
letters, should urge the president to push forward on
democratization, maintain the timeline he set out in the
March 2006 "Reform Roadmap," and thereby secure his legacy as
a genuine and effective reformist. In addition, the USG
should try to bolster the reformists' role in the cabinet
through messages to the government that specifically laud
those ministers' efforts. In addition to visits, messages
from Washington, including letters to President Gayoom from
principals, could have a strong positive impact. Both Post
and the GORM would also warmly welcome high level visits to

COLOMBO 00000289 004 OF 006


the Maldives, such as U/S Fore's planned March 7 trip to
Male'.



12. (SBU) The USG should also continue to engage with actors
across the political spectrum, encourage cooperative
dialogue, and reiterate to the opposition that it must behave
responsibly and within the greater national interest during
the Maldives' transition to a stronger democracy. The
Department's release of the 2006 Human Rights Reports will
form the basis for constructive discussions with both GORM
officials and opposition leaders. The Embassy will continue
cultivating contacts in the burgeoning civil society sector
and with journalists working on press freedom issues. The
USG can spread the message in Maldives that democracy
encompasses a broad range of vibrant institutions. In
addition, the Embassy will undertake further outreach to the
Islamist Adalath Party, attempting to engage the group to
hear its concerns and criticisms.

Cooperation with U.S. Military


--------------------------





13. (SBU) Maldives has demonstrated several times its
commitment to a close military-to military relationship with
the United States. In 2006, Maldivian security services held
two sets of joint exercises with US troops, demonstrating
competence, professionalism, and eagerness to increase
interoperability and support for US objectives. Due to
Maldives' relative proximity to Diego Garcia, DATT has often
called on the Government of the Republic of Maldives for
travel clearances for US ships and aircraft in Maldivian
space and received positive responses and full cooperation.
Despite its small population and limited applicant pool,
Maldivians consistently earn places at US military academies
and perform well there. In January 2007, Ambassador asked
Defense Minister Ismail Shafeeu to consider sending
Maldivians on multilateral peace-keeping operations, since
there is always demand for peacekeepers from Islamic nations.
Shafeeu expressed some reservations, but said he would
seriously consider the option because the suggestion came
from the US.



14. (SBU) The receptiveness of Maldivian defense officials
to broader and deeper cooperation with US counterparts is a
significant opportunity to enhance relations with a 100
percent Islamic country in a strategic part of the world.
Maldives' proximity to the Persian Gulf and its historical
and commercial ties to that region further leverage the
benefit to be gained by expanding our security relationship.
The US should continue to seek increased contact between our
militaries, in particular by trying to arrange more frequent
ship visits, training opportunities through IMET and other
programs, and joint exercises.

Promoting Commercial Ties


--------------------------





15. (SBU) The US Pavilion at the annual Maldives Hotel and
Trade Exhibition scheduled for June 2007 will feature 15-20
US exporters or their representatives showing products. In
addition, an Embassy-organized US-Maldives Friendship Week
will feature booths showcasing the 10.5 million dollars of
USG tsunami recovery assistance, the SouthWest Windpower
pilot renewable energy project, and activities of the
HIV/AIDS Global Fund that earmarked a contribution for
Maldives. The Ambassador will address the Maldives Chamber
of Commerce at a luncheon. The Embassy Economic Section will
arrange and facilitate meetings with GORM officials for the
Kathmandu-based Regional Environment Office, Delhi-based
Science and Agriculture officers, and the Mumbai-based

COLOMBO 00000289 005 OF 006


Foreign Commercial Service, thereby initiating
regionally-based US actors' enhanced engagement with
Maldives. If parent agencies in Washington contribute and
follow up on such efforts, small investments can yield large
results, both in terms of tangible economic reform and
greater goodwill toward the US.



16. (SBU) The Embassy will advocate possible Boeing and
SouthWest Windpower equipment purchases and explore possible
Direct Commercial Sales of military equipment such as small
boats. We will also work with the US Trade and Development
Agency on possible technical assistance in areas such as
renewable energy, "last mile" internet access, and
infrastructure development. Moreover, the USG should work
with the host government to launch Maldives' participation in
the GLOBE scientific education program. The Embassy
appreciates the active engagement of USTR Ambassador Hartwick
and will work with USTR to ascertain Maldives' level of
interest in a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement
(TIFA).

Leveraging Public Diplomacy Assets:
Education, Role of Women Key


--------------------------





17. (SBU) The Maldives is slated to open its first-ever
university in 2008. In July 2005, the Embassy PD Section
sent a senior Fulbright specialist to Male' to help develop a
journalism curriculum. This yielded a GORM commitment to
sponsor two students who will obtain journalism master's
degrees in the US and return to Male' to teach the new
curriculum. PD will also encourage current Fulbright
scholars resident in Maldives to offer informal guidance and
mentoring to officials planning the new university.
Moreover, we recommend the Department support increased
English language teaching programs in Maldives through
Embassy collaboration with the New Delhi-based Regional
English Language Officer. PD and the language officer can
work with the Maldivian Ministry of Education to strengthen
curriculum development, pedagogy, and teacher training
programs, aiming at a mid-term goal of securing an English
Language Fellow in Maldives in FY 2008.



18. (SBU) In addition, the Embassy is now examining the
possibility of having an Education USA-affiliated student
advisor resident in Male' to capitalize on Maldivians'
growing interest in higher education in America. We will
invite US schools and universities to include Maldives in
recruitment efforts and promote linkages with American
educational institutions and vocational schools. The Embassy
will take the first step in this process through a US
Education Promotion Fair in Maldives in March, followed by a
comprehensive effort during the planned US-Maldives
Friendship Week in June. Washington officials can make a
strong impact by attending the event or sending a taped
address to be played during a keynote session. Principals
might focus on any of a range of issues, including
educational opportunities, US business interests, or the
transition to multi-party democracy.



19. (SBU) Mission also proposes that the Department provide
additional I Bureau funding to support increased speaker
programming in the Maldives, including on the following
themes: Rule of Law; Organization and Role of Political
Parties; Role of Women's NGOs; Climate Change; Role of the
Media in a Democratic Society; and Narcotics Control. Post
will ensure that the five to seven annual International
Visitor Fellow Program slots allotted for Maldives cover
programs to help in these areas. The Department could
greatly enhance these efforts by increasing Sri Lanka's IV

COLOMBO 00000289 006 OF 006


allocation so that post can offer more places to Maldivian
participants. Whenever possible, the Embassy will help
coordinate voluntary visitor programs for Maldivians who fund
their own travel and expenses. Additionally, civic education
continues to remain an urgent need, and the Embassy again
asks that the Department support the National Democratic
Institute (NDI) December 2005 proposal to increase civic
awareness in Maldives (ref F).



20. (SBU) There is also a strong need to strengthen the role
of women in Maldives. Although a few women are engaged in
politics and civil society, pro-government websites regularly
vilify and sexually slander female reform activists. A 2005
baseline survey by the Maldives Human Rights Commission
indicates that awareness of women's rights is minimal
throughout society. The survey yielded widespread complaints
of sexual harassment and found that a greater percentage of
women than men expressed tolerance for men hitting their
wives. Although women have some parity in terms of education
and employment opportunities, few women are active in
business or politics. The International Republican Institute
(IRI) is running a women's NGO empowerment program in Sri
Lanka and has expressed willingness to extend training to
groups in the Maldives if funding becomes available. Post
strongly endorses this proposal and urges DRL and other
bureaus to consider Maldives when funding is available for
programs to improve the status of women. Such programs would
also help Maldives to counter the influence of radical
Islamic groups operating within the country.

MOVING FORWARD ON APP


--------------------------





21. (SBU) In November 2006, ref D requested Department
support for establishing an American Presence Post (APP) in
the Maldives. Embassy Colombo currently is forced to cover
the Maldives through short visits by several sections and
agencies. An APP would provide a platform to coordinate our
overall relationship on a consistent basis. Ambassador
informally introduced the topic of this APP to President
Gayoom when he presented his credentials in October 2006.
Gayoom welcomed the idea, asking to be notified of additional
details when available. Management will prepare an estimate
of the costs to establish this APP and furnish the
information to SCA/EX and the Bureau of Resource Management.
BLAKE