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South Asian Leaders Highlight Issues at UN General Assembly

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Several South Asian leaders took the podium at the U.N. General Assembly Saturday, as the annual debate entered its fourth day. The Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, as well as the foreign minister of India, highlighted issues concerning their region from terrorism to climate change.

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake said his country has now entered the post-conflict phase, in the aftermath of the military's defeat of separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters last May. He brushed aside U.N. and international criticism that his government has been too slow to release displaced Tamils from camps saying Sri Lanka is "firm" in its resolve to resettle them "expeditiously". "We realized the pace of resettlement must not be fast if it is to be truly safe and sustainable in the long term," he said.

He blamed the delay on the LTTE, saying they had "indiscriminately" scattered landmines and other explosives in civilian areas in the northeast that now must be demined before residents can return.

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said education is her government's top priority, with the goal of nation-wide literacy by 2014. She added that the single largest share of the annual budget goes towards the education of girls.

Sheikh Hasina expressed concern about the effects of climate change on Bangladesh, which has already felt its impact with rising sea levels, deadly cyclones and monsoons. She said, "Scientific estimates indicate, of the billion people expected to be displaced worldwide by 2050 as a result of climate change factors, one in every 45 people in the world, and one in every seven people in Bangladesh, would be a victim."

That could result in disaster for some 22 million Bangladeshis.

Neighboring India faces similar threats from global warming. Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna appealed for assistance to developing countries in combating the impact of climate change. "Developing countries must be supported financially, technologically and with capacity building resources, so that they can cope with the immense challenges of adaptation," he said.

He also said that India, which is a nuclear power, attaches the highest priority to the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Meanwhile, Madagascar's de facto government said Saturday it would protest the refusal of the General Assembly to let its self-proclaimed leader Andry Rajoelina address the world body. In a vote Friday evening at the request of several African nations, he was denied the floor just before he was to make his address.