- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

MALAYSIA

India, China eyed to urge Burma reform

KUALA LUMPUR — The Association of Southeast Asian Nations will ask China and India to “persuade” Burma to reform, since the group has had little success in prodding the generals toward greater democracy, according to ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong.

“ASEAN loves to look after everybody’s ego and interest. There is very little space for us to maneuver on this issue. Don’t forget, [Burma] is a member so we cannot be nasty to our own brothers and sisters” there, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of the ASEAN Leadership Forum jointly organized by the organization’s Jakarta-based secretariat and Kuala Lumpur-based Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute.

“We just need to have more persuasion,” Mr. Ong said. “I think we should ask our friends in China and India to be more persuasive.” His position echoed that of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged China and India to exert more pressure on the junta to improve its human rights record.

SRI LANKA

Low turnout mars local elections

COLOMBO — A low turnout marred municipal elections in Sri Lanka on Thursday after a campaign that unexpectedly focused on local issues instead of the usual electoral favorite, the island’s divisive peace process.

Election officials estimated that only about half the 10.1 million eligible voters cast ballots to elect municipal, urban and village councils, compared to 67 percent in the last such poll in 2002. Analysts ascribed the poor showing to the fact that candidates focused on local issues such as garbage removal and utility costs.

There was no balloting in the island’s restive northern and eastern regions, which are mostly under the control of Tamil Tiger rebels. The election was the first test of public opinion since President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power last November with the backing of nationalist Buddhist monks and Marxists.

Weekly notes

Happy to go home but worried about what they will find there, refugees from the South Asian earthquake are leaving their tent camps and returning to the mountains. Pakistani authorities set yesterday, nearly six months after the Oct. 8 disaster killed about 75,000 people, as the deadline to end rescue operations and begin the rebuilding phase. In some parts, the only hindrance is snow or a damaged bridge, but in others, landslides block the roads and mountainsides are unstable. … The three-day visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to Pakistan that began yesterday is intended to beef up defense relations between the two countries, diplomats and analysts say. “Understandably, the defense aspect of the visit is … not publicly mentioned,” an Asian diplomat said, “but that is the principal intent of this visit.”

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