Maldives government has agreed to the opposition demand for a United Nations (UN) mediator in the talks to resolve the continued political strife in the archipelago, fisheries minister Dr Mohamed Shainee said Thursday.
The government had moved quickly to invite the main opposition parties to designate representatives for the talks after Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) placed Maldives on its formal agenda and warned the island nation suspension from the Commonwealth if the government failed to make progress on a proposed reform agenda.
CMAG had laid out a six-point reform agenda in February, which includes the release of political prisoners and judicial reform.
During the body’s sit-down on Friday, the ministers expressed deep disappointment at the lack of progress in the priority areas.
“… in the absence of substantive progress across the priority areas, the Group would consider its options, including suspension from the Councils of the Commonwealth, at its next meeting, in March 2017,” a statement after the sit-down read.
CMAG had also called on both sides to compromise and sit-down for dialogue without any pre-conditions.
Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) had said it would honour the Commonwealth's push for dialogue but had asked the government to involve a UN mediator in the sit-downs.
In addition to the Commonwealth, the United Nations had also initiated proxy talks after the main opposition parties refused to sit-down with government demanding the release of all jailed political leaders as a pre-condition for the talks earlier this year.
The UN had appointed Tamrat Samuel as its envoy who arrived in the Maldives in July to revive the all-party talks which had remained stalled as the with the government and opposition at loggerheads over the release of jailed political leaders.
Despite renouncing pre-conditions for talks with the government, both MDP and Adhaalath had said it would push to free jailed opposition leaders including former president Mohamed Nasheed and AP president Sheikh Imran Abdulla.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail last year but was given asylum in Britain after traveling there for back surgery while Imran was found guilty of terrorism over a speech he gave at the May Day rally and sentenced to 12 years in prison in February.
Imran was accused of inciting violence with the prosecution arguing that he must bear responsibility for the violent clashes.
Shainee who is the chief government representative in the talks, said the government would offer as much leeway as possible to the opposition.
The government was willing to discuss commuting the sentences of jailed political leaders, Shainee added.
However, he lambasted the opposition for continuing to set pre-conditions for dialogue pointing out that the government remained more flexible.
Shainee said the UN envoy was presently on a short vacation and is expected to return next month.
"He is expected to return in the middle of next month. We will begin the talks as soon as he returns," Shainee added.