Exiled Maldivian former president accuses China of land grab

Mohamed Nasheed lives in exile in London. Beijing leased at least 16 atolls to build ports and infrastructure for its New Silk Road. The opposition leader also warns that Muslim extremists are a threat to the country.

Malé (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Maldives’ first democratically-elected president has accused China of a “land grab”.

Mohamed Nasheed, 50, leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was forced into exile in London by a coup.

During a visit to Colombo, Sri Lanka, where many of his party’s activists are based, he attacked China’s strategy of leasing some of his country’s islands, which he deems a threat to its national sovereignty.

He also warned against the growth of Islamic extremism, which could lead to a parallel state in the tropical tourist paradise located in the Indian Ocean.

Nasheed noted that Chinese interests have leased at least 16 of the atoll nation’s 1,192 coral islands.

The Maldives are part of Beijing’s New Silk Road, which includes the construction of ports and infrastructure on leased land.

For the former president, "This is colonialism, and we must not allow it. We want other countries (in the region) to join us and speak the same language (against Chinese expansion). We are not against any country, not against direct foreign investment, but we are against relinquishing our sovereignty."

In 2008 The MDP leader became the Maldives' first democratically-elected president but was ousted in a coup backed by religious extremists in February 2012. In 2015 he was jailed on terrorism charges which he says were politically motivated.

In Colombo he announced that if he was re-elected in the Maldives next year, a predominantly Muslim country of 340,000, he would reopen the deals signed with China.

With respect to Islamic extremism, Nasheed noted that at least 300 Maldivians joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and that many are coming home.

He added that key branches of the government were being infiltrated by Salafists, an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that there is now a parallel state in the Maldives. A state within the state. A network of religious radicals have infiltrated strategic institutions, the government and the street gangs."