- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

NEPAL

Maoists torch tourists’ van

KATMANDU — Maoists fighting to overthrow Nepal’s monarchy torched a van that had been carrying French tourists near a popular lookout point on the Himalayas, police said Thursday.

Armed rebels stopped the van late Wednesday near Daman, a resort that on clear days offers spectacular views of Mount Everest, forcing two French tourists and the driver to get out before torching the vehicle, police said.

No one was hurt. The Maoists have rarely struck at the tourism industry, a major revenue earner in the impoverished kingdom, in the course of their eight-year insurgency, which has taken more than 9,500 lives.

Earlier, the army reported some of Nepal’s deadliest clashes in months as troops flushed out Maoists who had stormed Beni, headquarters of the northwestern Myagdi district. A security official said an additional seven troops and two rebels died Thursday in nearby Niskot.

SRI LANKA

New peace talks is top vote issue

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s political groups enter next week’s elections vowing to bring the Tamil Tigers back to the table, but the parties are poles apart on how to end decades of ethnic bloodshed.

Rivals agree that the drawn-out Tamil separatist conflict, in which more than 60,000 have been killed, is the key issue of Friday’s parliamentary election, called nearly four years ahead of schedule by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The president sacked the legislature controlled by her archrival, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, after accusing him of conceding too much to the rebels in peace talks since September 2002. The talks have been stalled since last April, and reviving the process to stabilize a truce in place since February 2002 is the top election issue.

Weekly notes

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has told foreign diplomats in Kabul he wants to delay parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for June until September. So far, fewer than 1.6 million of the estimated 10.5 million eligible have registered to vote, and only 28 percent of those are women, according to the United Nations, which is playing the lead role in organizing the polls. Observers have voiced doubts that Afghanistan’s polls will be representative and legitimate. … Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi called on Senior Gen. Than Shwe, chairman of Burma’s military junta on Thursday. No details were immediately released. Vice Premier Wu met Gen. Khin Nyunt, the prime minister, on Wednesday and the two witnessed the signing of 21 agreements on economic and technical assistance, including a low-interest Chinese loan. Mrs. Wu, accompanied by officials and entrepreneurs, visited Laos and Cambodia before arriving in Rangoon on Tuesday and will leave today from Mandalay for the Maldives.

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