Maldives to allow foreigners to own land
COLOMBO - Agence France-PresseMaldivian President Abdulla Yameen approved on July 23 a law allowing foreign ownership of land for the first time, triggering concern over a possible landgrab by China in the strategic Indian Ocean region.
Dozens of foreign companies already run luxury resorts on islands that they lease from the government of the honeymoon islands for a maximum of 99 years.
The new law would allow foreigners who invest more than $1 billion to own land in perpetuity, provided 70 percent of it is reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.
“President Abdulla Yameen on July 23 ratified the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives,” his office said in a brief statement, referring to the law.
The privately run Minivan News said Yameen defended the move in an address to the nation later in the day and dismissed fears that it could undermine security in the Indian Ocean region.
“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighboring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarized zone,” Yameen was quoted as saying.
He said the Maldives’ foreign policy would not change and the new move would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighboring countries.”
Lawmakers voted on July 22 for the bill which easily passed after a brief debate, with 70 members in favor and 14 against, the assembly said in a statement.
But opposition MPs expressed fears that the move could clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which straddle vital international east-west shipping routes.
Regional superpower India is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area, which it considers to be within its sphere of influence.