Troops Pursue Mercenaries Who Invaded Maldives
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Foreign mercenaries who tried to overthrow the government of the Maldives fled by boat with about 20 hostages today after Indian paratroopers landed in the Indian Ocean island nation.
Indian naval and air forces were pursuing a 5,000-ton boat carrying mercenaries, hostages and local sympathizers who participated in Thursday’s attack, said a senior air force officer in the south Indian city of Trivandrum.
He said the boat was hit by machine gun fire when it fled Male, the Maldivian capital. ″It’s listing a little, but it’s limping along on the high seas,″ he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said there were about 20 hostages and they included a Maldivian Cabinet minister and his family. The official did not know the minister’s name, but Male residents contacted by telephone said Transport Minister Ahmed Mujithaba was abducted.
Ahmed Abdullah Aziz, Maldivian high commissioner in Colombo, said 12 people were killed during the attack.
But Baldev Kapoor, a photographer for the Sygma agency, quoted Maldivian Foreign Minister Fathulla Jameel as saying 30 people died. Kapoor was one of several Indian journalists taken with Indian troops to Male today.
Jameel said the dead included civilians but gave no further breakdown, according to Kapoor. Kapoor said he saw President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and that he appeared healthy.
Gayoom, who asked India to send hundreds of troops to help crush the attack, said his government was in control in the archipelago 475 miles southwest of the Indian coast.
An official at the Indian Foreign Ministry said Gayoom had asked that the Indian troops not leave yet.
People in Male, a town of 55,000, emerged from their homes today as hundreds of Indian troops patrolled the streets where the coup attempt took place before dawn Thursday.
During the raid, members of Gayoom’s 1,200-man lightly armed National Security Force clashed with an estimated 150 mercenaries who fired on the presidential palace and other government buildings with bullets and rocket- propelled grenades, diplomats and residents said.
India’s state-run television today showed bullet holes in government buildings. Indian troops fanned out across grassy fields, their automatic rifles in firing position.
Male residents said they had heard no gunfire since midnight Thursday.
Radio Male, which resumed broadcasting this morning for the first time since the gunmen temporarily seized the station Thursday, said five mercenaries were captured before they could leave the atoll in their boats.
In a radio message, the 50-year-old Gayoom noted he has survived three coup attempts since he was elected to office in 1978, but he gave no indication who was behind the latest attempt.
The radio also carried repeated Defense Ministry warnings to stay indoors because some injured mercenaries may have been left behind, said a doctor contacted by telephone and speaking on condition of anonymity.
In New Delhi, India’s capital, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told Parliament the mercenaries were hired by ″disgruntled Maldivians living outside the country.″
He said no Indian troops were injured.
Radio Male said 700 Indian paratroopers and an Indian navy ship arrived Thursday night.
Diplomatic sources and a Sri Lankan military official in Colombo said ethnic Tamil guerrillas were recruited with promises of cash by an agent of former President Ibrahim Nasir, who ruled from 1968 until he fled to Singapore after stepping down in 1978. His supporters were blamed for the previous coup attempts.
Tamils are fighting a separatist war with the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka, which is also off the southern coast of India. The Indian government, which is worried about the possibility of unrest among its own Tamil population, maintains peacekeeping troops in Sri Lanka.
Gayoom has tried to chart a political course of non-alignment with the superpowers for his country, which lies near major shipping lanes leading to the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
The Maldives, a Moslem nation, emerged from British colonial rule in 1965. The chain of 1,200 coral islands and 800 islets is a popular vacation retreat for Western European and Japanese tourists. Only about 140 of the islands are inhabited by the Maldives’ 190,000 people.