The truth about the alleged coup … a series of deliberate actions by Nasheed?
As the time of President Mohamed Waheed gives his first State of the Nation Address to the Parliament draws near, local media air new material that point to deliberate attempts by his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed to orchestrate military rule in the country. Nasheed resigned on February 7th by letter, and followed that with a televised public address informing Maldivians of his resignation and reasons thereof. Mohamed Waheed, his Vice President, was sworn in as President in accordance with the Constitution.
However, within hours, Nasheed told foreign media that he was deposed by a military coup led by President Waheed. From that moment on, Maldivians are being bombarded with vastly differing versions of events on February 7th and prior to that. Unfortunately, President Waheed appears to be too busy lurching from crisis to crisis led by the nose by his coalition partners and by Nasheed, to bother about a small matter such as an investigation into allegations of a military coup.
Maldivians are still reeling in amazement as one by one Nasheed’s various claims are refuted by the authorities, through video, audio and photographic evidence. Such evidence shows that yes indeed, Nasheed did write and sign and official resignation letter which he claimed he did not. That yes, indeed, Nasheed informed military that he was resigning and outlined the process he would go through for this, which he claimed he did with 18 guns pointed at his head. That yes, indeed, police and military had been given illegal orders during the events leading to his resignation, which he claimed never happened. That yes, indeed, military had no lethal weapons in their hands during the events of February 7th, which Nasheed claimed they had and had threatened to use against civilians if he did not resign. The list of claims and refutations is too long, and undoubtedly best dealt with by an independent national investigation into the matter.
As each Nasheed claim is refuted, a new one is born at his every public address. Earlier this week, Nasheed’s claims about the military were again refuted. In an interview to local media, Ground Commander of the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) on February 7th, First Lt. Ali Ihusan denied that MNDF officers had forced Nasheed to resign. First Lt. Ihusan denied that MNDF had requested to use lethal weapons against the police and public.
Did Nasheed resign at gunpoint? Did MNDF officers demand that he resign, with or without guns?
Nasheed alleges that 18 security service officers pointed guns at his head and demanded that he resign. He says that, if he did not resign, the MNDF officers threatened to fire upon the public.
First Lt. Ali Ihusan categorically denied that. He said that, he had been on the ground from the late afternoon of February 6th, had interacted with and been close to Nasheed several times during the events, but had not witnessed any MNDF officers asking Nasheed to resign. On the contrary, he too had been present when Nasheed asked several officers present whether he should resign. He contends that the call for resignation came from outside, fuelled by an escalation of the situation due to misjudgments by Nasheed and his ministers in handling the situation that day.
An audio leaked last week covers a conversation between Nasheed and MNDF officials and appears to be an audio of the incident that Ihusan refers to. In that audio, Nasheed is heard informing officers that he had decided to resign. In that audio, Nasheed does not make any reference to any threats against him by the MNDF. On the contrary, Nasheed repeatedly praises the conduct of MNDF, telling them they are people who would be upholding the constitution and defending the country. He then requests them to ensure that he and his family were safe. The officers are heard responding in one voice, Yes, Sir!
When questioned about this audio on Dateline program of SBS TV Australia, Nasheed responded that, at that, he was speaking trying to find a way out of the MNDF headquarters. Nasheed does not deny that the audio is an actual one of the events that transpired, nor does he claim that it was tampered with. This means that the leaked audio is a genuine recording of his conversation with the MNDF officials that he later claimed had forced him to resign at gunpoint.
Did the MNDF threaten to use weapons against civilians?
According to Ground Commander First Lt. Ihusan, at no time did MNDF threaten to use guns against civilians. First Lt. Ihusan said that at no time during the “engagement” with the public and the police officers who were protesting, had any officer given a command to use “lethal weapons”, the category under which guns and live ammunition would be classified. On the contrary, he said, that his senior officers had repeatedly commanded that he use any non-lethal force necessary to arrest and subdue the protesting police and the public. This would include all weapons from riot gear, batons and tear gas, he said. However, Ihusan said that, neither he nor other officers on the ground had commanded the use of even such weapons, given their assessment that the ground situation would escalate were the MNDF to use any force in controlling the protest.
First Lt. Ihusan said that, on four separate occasions from the evening of the 6th to mid-day of 7th February, the MNDF had successfully brought the situation under control without the use of any force. However, each time, just as the whole situation was about to be resolved, he and his forces were withdrawn from the scene and actions initiated by Nasheed and his ministers to escalate the situation again.
Following is an English translation of his verbatim account of the events, in an interview with local TV.
Incident 1: Artificial Beach, February 6th, evening.
“We were ordered to go there (Artificial Beach, on the Eastern seafront of Male’) and take operational command. We were taken aback, and questioned amongst ourselves whether a situation had arisen where we had to take operational command. However, as soon as we got the order from above, we deployed there. I was one of three commanders on the ground. On the way we heard on radio and TV, that MNDF were on the way to arrest police officers. However, we had not received any order of that sort, nor were we told anything of that sort.
When we got there, there were some police officers. When we got there and arranged our ranks and began getting ready, the last of the police officers departed from the scene. Our ranks were going to move in between the protestors and others who had come to confront the protestors. We were attempting to move the two sides in different directions.
Just as we were making the final preparations to move in between the two groups, we got the order for all MNDF to deploy to the area near the MTCC Sawmill Area (North Eastern corner of Male’). At that time, there were no other security forces on the ground. That is, there were no police. And if we left, there wouldn’t be any MNDF either. We asked, that is, requested clarification. That is, if we left there wouldn’t be any security force. Looking at the crowd, in a place where there was no security forces, it was probable that some unrest would occur.
However, we got repeated commands to move out, and being MNDF, and since the picture seen by the senior officers in the Operations Centre or those higher, would be different to that seen by the officer on the ground. They may have intelligence information we may not have. Keeping these things in mind, we moved out our troops from the scene to the MTCC area.
Before we could reach the MTCC, we again got a command. There had been a confrontation, throwing of stones, fighting, attacking individuals. Instantly we ran back to the scene. We pushed back the people who had come to attack the protestors, and attempted to subdue the area. We quietly attempted to move back the protestors from the joint parties.
While we were there, police troops came rushing back in vehicles and entered the scene, walking through our ranks. When they came, the police were very angry, because MNDF had abandoned the scene and allowed unrest to begin. However we managed to convince police that we had the area under control now and that we would request their help if needed. The police departed.
I heard later that some of them had gone to the MDP Meeting Hall and were damaging the place. We deployed a mobile team there. When our team got there, there was nothing of that sort happening. The people there told us that police had come, attacked them, used pepper spray and so on, but had not departed. We cleared the scene. Those who wanted to go into the hall went inside. We dispersed the people on the street. While we were there we got another command, to deploy to the Republican Square.
When people say that police and MNDF confronted each other at Artificial Beach, that is misleading because police were angry because of the information that they had been given. That MNDF had fled the scene while there was unrest happening. It is police duty by law to maintain peace, so with that in mind they were angry because we had first taken control of a scene that they were controlling, and then we had abandoned it. But after talking to us about it, they quietened down. There was no confrontation there between MNDF and police”.
Ihusan’s statement corroborates a statement aired two weeks ago, in which the Police Special Forces ground commander on the scene stated that his troops were also commanded to return to Police Headquarters, at the critical moment when the opposing political parties were about to clash. According to the Police Commander, at the time, if the police troops had left there would have been no security personnel to keep the peace at Artificial Beach. Although the command was repeatedly given from headquarters, he refused to withdraw the police officers under his command until the MNDF came, noting that if he had, the clash between opposing protesters would have ended in bloodshed that day.
Incident 2: Republic Square, February 7th, morning.
The second incident of deliberate escalation of the ground situation by the Nasheed government occurred on the morning of February 7th, at the south western corner of Republican Square. First Lt. Ihusan noted that, after throughout the night till morning, police stayed peacefully on Republican Square. Their demands were 1) that they not be given illegal commands, and 2) that those who had disobeyed illegal commands not be punished. In the meantime, the public on the southern side of the square had been repeatedly attacking MNDF who were cordoning off the area, and also damaging public and private property there.
According to Ihusan, the first problem arose when the MNDF were commanded to arrest police officers who were pointed out by the Deputy Commissioner of Police, and to escort them into MNDF HQ.
“All of us ground commanders on the scene at the time told our commanding officers that this issue was a police internal issue, and that it was not advisable for MNDF to interfere in that issue at this time. The situation may escalate of we attempted to enter the scene, one that may be difficult for MNDF to control. Upon our recommendation, we did not get any further orders to arrest individual police officers.
However, we did get the order to move the police out of Republican Square. Police still retained their two demands. We spoke repeatedly to the senior officers there, using a negotiation approach. They repeatedly assured us that they would remain peacefully and that they would not create unrest. Their request was that the Commissioner of Police come and speak to them.
We relayed these requests through our chain of command, but our chain of command did not accept these demands at all. We don’t know from what level the command came, but after some time, we got the order to send away the police assembled there, without any conditions. We were permitted to use any non-lethal force as we saw fit, in order to send them away.
When we first received the command we immediately told our superiors that this would not be a good thing. Our reason was that, if we went into a confrontation with the police, the police would also want to confront us. The police also had riot gear and weapons. They were trained in unarmed combat. It would do no good to confront them in this situation. We could send them away in that instant, using force. However, once we do that, the national security of the country would escalate into a very vulnerable position. We told our superiors that if this situation escalated to this level, then we would not be able to control it. Although we repeatedly told our superiors this, we repeatedly got the command to send the police away from there. However, we were commanded to send the police away.
We got our ranks ready for that, with riot guns with rubber bullets at the front. However, we gave police the option of moving to Iskandar Square. Our chain of command told us that the Police Commissioner would meet the police once they moved there. The police at one time even agreed to move there. But some amongst them disagreed. They doubted that the CP would meet them there, and that their demands would be met. They feared that if they moved to Iskandar Square, they would be contained in a controlled environment and action would be taken against them. So they refused.
We relayed this to our chain of command. We told them that that we could not go for a confrontation at any cost, even if we use tear gas, the situation would escalate beyond our control. The ground commanders decided at that stage to withdraw all MNDF in riot gear back into MNDF HQ, and we did that. We left only the officers who were there to block the road.
We again got the order to send away the police. At that moment some ground commanders refused to do that. At that moment I was informed that I was the commander of all the troops on the ground. I was commanded again to send away the police. I mustered all the MNDF troops and led them out again.
I again tried to negotiate with the police, requesting them to go to Iskandar Square, that the Commissioner of Police would go to meet them there. That was how we got the command. I even advanced the MNDF ranks by about 50 feet. I saw the reaction of the police when we did that. Police also got into their ranks. Raised their shields. So I moved the MNDF back again. I knew that if I moved even an inch forward, the police would escalate the situation.
I realized that if we were in that situation even we would act in that way. They were our brothers in arms. They shared with us the responsibility of maintaining national security. And they were more experienced than us in maintaining peace on Male’, in the frontline. Today, when the whole police force was there, if we used force to disrupt their assembly, tomorrow there would be no one to work as a police officer.
In the same way, those officers who left the police in anger, we cannot imagine what they would do. Therefore we did not want to take that risk with our country. Without taking that risk, we could see that there were several ways in which to solve the situation. These we relayed to our superiors. However, our superiors did not decide to follow our recommendations.
I did get the order to use riot guns. We were very close to the police, about 25 metres. But I did not use them. Because many people would be injured. Police and MNDF would shed blood. The situation may escalate beyond our control. I did not want to take that risk. I did not want to put my country at that risk. That was why I moved back the MNDF. At that moment I got the order to bring withdraw all MNDF back into MNDF HQ, which I did”.
Incident 3: MMA Square, February 7th, morning.
“After that, I took a team of MNDF and went to MMA square, the corner where Chandhanee Magu joined Ameer Ahmed Magu. I waited there with my boys. There were a lot of MDP people at that corner. Similarly, at the MMA corner, there were a lot of people from the allied parties, people who had been protesting for many nights. In that situation, dispersing them would not have been an easy task for us. One reason was that there were so many people, and not many MNDF were outside HQ. So, I decided at that time not to use force. And I even removed my helmet. And I asked the public, to move back, up to the MMA flag. The public there, very obediently, moved back.
Then I came to MDP, and asked them too, to move back into Chaandhanee Magu, without coming out of the edge of that road. Even they were very friendly, shook my hand, and moved back.
While we had thus controlled that area and waited, we got the command to leave that area and return. Once again that was an order that we found difficult to believe. These orders were not orders that were against the law. However, such orders totally failed on moral and ethical standards. Because, we knew as a certainty, that if we abandoned the scene like that, it may again go back to a chaos. So while we could see that situation unfolding, I don’t think, by any moral or ethical standards, we could have left the scene. I informed that, however, the repeated command came for us to move back into MNDF HQ. When we checked why we had to move back inside, we were told that it was because the President wanted to meet all the MNDF troops.
So, when that order came to us repeatedly, we acceded. All the troops with us moved to return inside. On the way, I met police officers. They asked me, are you leaving your cordons and going away? I told them we were going inside for a briefing, to please take charge of the cordons. At that time, we had not officially informed the police that we were leaving, so there was no one to maintain security there at the time. The police even then were in the middle of Republican Square.
We re-entered MNDF HQ, and arranged our ranks within the MNDF HQ, getting ready for the briefing. While we were getting ready, suddenly it became very noisy outside. We started getting news that a policeman had been stabbed with an iron bar. We even heard that the officer had been killed. In that situation, in that chaotic situation, some officers in MNDF also began expressing unhappiness about the situation, at that moment in time. However, all of us MNDF came out in order to control the situation outside. We knew that, from that moment, safety and protection, had been lost in that area.
Incident 4: Republic Square, February 7th, mid morning.
We ran out and arranged our ranks again, to fully clean out Republican Square. We arranged our ranks, and even put on our gas masks, in order to use gas there. Even at that time, I was in front as the troop commander. As I was about to move forward, I glanced and at that moment, I saw, in front of Police Headquarters, where the police ranks and MNDF ranks would have encountered each other, a group of MNDF go into the police ranks. They went, and called, ‘Come towards the defense forces, come, come”, they spoke in this type of manner. That was a moment when, regardless, even our morale would have gone down. When our troops, wearing our uniform, went like that”.
Defense Minister Tholhath gassed the MNDF ground commander and troops.
“So we took off our gas masks. And I assured the police that we would not use gas. Not even two minutes would have passed after I took off my gas mask, the first gas cylinder came. It came from within MNDF HQ. We received information later that it was not even an MNDF officer. It was apparently hurled by the Defense Minister. I cannot give 100% confirmation of this. I do not even want to speculate. But, at that moment, all the MNDF troops were under my command. I believe that whoever threw it should throw it under my command. But it was not thrown under my command. The reason is that I did not command to throw it. So, the command came from somewhere, from above me. Later, an officer who was watching, told me that it was thrown by the Defense Minister.
From that moment, that situation went to chaos. Myself, the commander on the ground, got gassed directly in my whole face and mouth.
Even at that situation, we had authorization to use any non-lethal weapon. And from the previous night, that was what we were being commanded to do. Nothing lethal is interpreted to mean everything up to riot guns. From gas, shields, batons, everything included. But we did not use them. We did not want to use any force against the police.
Our reason was that we believed that it was a police leadership issue, that the police would resolve it. But we did not receive cooperation for that.
When we were gassed, most of us were not prepared for that. We were not even wearing our gas masks, because we did not want to use gas there. We could have controlled the situation in an easier way. However, when gas was used, in the chaotic situation that resulted, we decided to move our troops inside. This was because, if we had remained there, more people would have been injured. If we remained, there would be unrest between ourselves and the police. A lot of people may have been injured. So, we moved our troops inside. And locked the gate.
At that moment, there were a lot of things thrown at the MNDF HQ. Public were throwing things, the police were throwing things. In order to protect that MNDF gate, in case someone burst through the gate, we used whatever we could. There we used riot guns. We used a lot of gas too. We worked in that way until the situation was force controlled.
As we carried on like that, slowly the attacks stopped. The two sides were able to start talking. From that moment, we went into a big negotiation process”.
MNDF had no intention of using live rounds
“I would say that the MNDF, not the MNDF senior command, nor those who were the political leaders, the President, the Defense Minister, no one talked about live rounds, weapons. Not even from an MNDF officer. I was active on the ground all day. No one talked about live rounds to me, not from any direction”.
Did Nasheed lie when he said that MNDF asked for permission to use live rounds?
“Then, the other day, I also heard on TV that the former President had said that he had received a request for the use of lethal weapons. However, I would not say that any officer of the MNDF requested that. We got the orders to use any non-lethal weapon and to disperse the police from there. At no time, from any MNDF Officer. Where we did not want to hit a person with a baton, how can we fire upon them?
I do not believe that Republican Square was at a situation where non lethal weapons had to be used. Before MDP came and attacked the police while we were inside, there was no need at any time to use non-lethal weapons. There was no situation at that level there. Yes, they were disobedient, but they were not any threat at that time. Their request was that, a person who was in command of a uniformed service, the Commissioner of Police, to come there and meet them. That was not, in my view, a situation in which riot gear had to be used at any time, not a time that required the use of riot weapons”.
Did the MNDF force Nasheed to resign?
“Throughout the day, we MNDF officers tried to discharge all our national duties. One of these responsibilities was to uphold the legally elected government of this country. Until either the Supreme Court or the People’s Majlis determines that it is not a legal government through the process by which it must determine this, we will defend that government and we did. And we will do so again.
Knowing our national security and protection, we would not work to lose it. Knowing that it would be lost, we worked in all the ways that we could to prevent that.
The third thing is that, we were directly looking after the security of the President.
I was very close to the President. At no time did any MNDF official force him, or even request him, to resign. Leaving aside using force, I did not even see an MNDF giving even such a suggestion to the President.
However, I saw with my own eyes and I heard with my own ears, the President ask, “Should I resign?”. To that, our troops gave a reply. After he asked repeatedly. As soon as he first asked, we did not shout. Raising his hand he asked our troops, who amongst you feel that I should make this decision. A lot of officers there then replied, with raised hands. The troops there were very junior boys. That moment was when almost all the people outside were calling for his resignation. I believe that that sound echoed. Before that, no MNDF official and not even police, talked of the President’s resignation. MNDF then, and when the President resigned, worked to protect the legal government of the Maldives of the time”.
Did the MNDF take bribes, as accused by Nasheed?
“I will say that, on November 3rd 1988, MNDF came out to defend the country, not because we were given bribes. Secondly, MNDF worked during the tsunami in 2004, not because we were given bribes by anyone. Thirdly, the most crucial time faced by this government, the SAARC Summit. The MNDF worked 24 hours to ensure a smooth SAARc Summit, not because any one paid us bribes. And in addition, MNDF came out control all the past protests, not because anyone paid us bribes.
So, even on that day, for MNDF to discharge its duties, no one has to give us bribes. We did not request the resignation of the President. They say we took bribes to topple the government. When the Government ordered us to disperse the police from there using force, we did not obey that, not because we received bribes, but because we felt that it would throw the country into a situation where national security was lost.
We believe, that after giving such an order, and if the country falls into that situation, the MNDf would have to be fully responsible for that. Therefore, we believed that that command was a failed command by moral ethical standards. If, knowing that the country may fall into that state, such a command was given, we believe that command is also an illegal order. That is why, we did not obey such commands issued by the government”.
Did MNDF force Nasheed to resign?
“If the fact that we did not bow our heads to those orders is said to be the reason that caused the President to resign, then that reason was created by the events that I described.
If the reason that the President had to resign was because the situation could not be controlled, then, in my view, the country went into that state because of the decisions that they made. It was a ground that we had controlled very nicely. They pulled us in from that ground, into MNDF. From that moment, some people came and attacked the police. Before that, no one had called for the resignation of the President. Not even the police. An MNDF officer did not even think of it. So this arose because the situation escalated to that level.
In a case where the situation been escalated to that level, by himself, or due to the work of his own party, then accusing MNDF officers of taking bribes is something which makes us very sad. For everything that has been faced by country, and for things that may come up in the future, MNDF will confront. And MNDF will control that.
Our main interest is always, first to protect Islam, our nation, our people. Protecting the Maldivian Government is one of our responsibilities. We will uphold that government. So we will obey all orders from that Government. But if any of those orders are orders that put the national security and protection of the country, its religion and people at risk, we will not obey those orders. If that is the reason why the government fell, then it is our decision not to obey that order. It is not by taking bribes in any situation. The situation had been escalated to that level that we could not obey that order because we did not want to destroy the country”.