Maldives "agrees" to India's conditions to relax visa clamp

Male, Jan.29 (ANI): The Maldives Government has agreed to conditions proposed by India to relax the clamp on the free on arrival visa granted to Maldivians to visit India.

The Indian High Commission in Male had earlier announced that visa free travel facilities to India available to Maldivian citizens are valid for tourism purpose only, and advised the public to obtain the appropriate visas before travelling to India.

The High Commission had insisted that the change in procedure was not new, and added, that there has only been a change in the "interpretation" of the agreement signed between India and Maldives in 1979 to grant 90 days free on arrival visa.

Speaking during the Parliament's Government Accountability Committee meeting on Monday over the visa issue, State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed revealed that India had put forward seven issues to the Maldives government. On December 17, the cabinet had decided to find a resolution to those issues and informed the decision to the Indian High Commission in Male, Hassan added.

"They [India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by Indians in Maldives. In that regard, they had pointed out the difficulties faced by the 30,000 or so Indians in Maldives. After the discussions at the President's Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues," the web site Haveeru Online quoted Hassan, as detailing.

The Foreign Ministry had earlier revealed to the committee while India have tightened the free on arrival visa for Maldivians, India had put forward a list of requests to the Maldives government.

Haveeru Online quoted Ambassador-at-large Abdul Azeez Yoosuf, as saying that during a meeting with Indian High Commissioner to Maldives D M Mulay on December 20, he had listed several issues faced by Indians in Maldives.

The list handed by Mulay includes issues such as Indians having to return back over insufficient visa requirements, over stay, the excessive fine on visa breaches, dependent visa and the unlawful seizing of passports of Indians working in the Maldives by employers.

During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian Government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present clamp on Indian visa if the Maldives government agrees to extradite Indian prisoners in Maldives.

"We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives. Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures," Samad said.

Hassan further explained that all but two Indians detained in Maldives are serving sentences for drug related offences; hence extraditing them would not be easy.

However, the Attorney General's (AG) office has been asked to revise the laws in order to implement the transfer of prisoners' agreement between India and Maldives, he added.

He also admitted that changes need to be made to the laws which levies a fine of MVR15,000 for overstay and said the Immigration Department has been requested to work out a solution.

Maldivian employers have been informed by the relevant authorities not to seize passports of Indian expatriates while the Foreign Ministry has decided to iron out the issues in obtaining dependent visa, Hassan said. (ANI)