India starts rebuilding World War II road

By Syed Zakir Hussain

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Ledo (Assam) : India has started rebuilding its portion of Stilwell Road, which came up at the height of World War II.

This follows talks between China, Myanmar and India on reopening of the historic road for trade and overland transport reaching a crucial stage.

"We have started widening and developing the stretch of the Stilwell Road on the Indian side. Now it all depends on the three countries agreeing to reopen the road," Assam Industries Minister Pradyut Bordoloi told IANS Saturday.

Added Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi: "The road would be a dream come true for the people of the northeast. It will boost trade and commerce significantly."

The 1,726-km Stilwell Road was a vital lifeline for movement of troops of the Allied Forces during World War II to free China from Japanese occupation.

It starts at Assam, in the heart of India's northeast, and cuts through the Pangsau pass in Myanmar to Kunming in south China.

The road was built by Chinese labourers, Indian soldiers and American engineers, and named after American General Joseph Stilwell who led the task and completed it in 1945 after three years of hard work.

The Stilwell Road on the Indian side is 61 km long. The major stretch of 1,033 km lies in Myanmar while the Stilwell Road in China is 632 km long.

China has completed constructing its stretch of the Stilwell Road. The only problem is now Myanmar.

"Myanmar is keen to rebuild the road but the major hindrance for them is funds and other resources," an Indian foreign ministry official said.

The state governments in India's northeast agree that the Stilwell Road would bring economic prosperity to the underdeveloped region.

"Free trade with Southeast Asian countries and India's northeast would be possible only with the reopening of Stilwell Road," said Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

"Our region would then have the potential to become the hub of business activities and the gateway to Southeast Asia."

Indian automobile components, fruits, grains, vegetables, textiles and cotton yarn find a strong demand in almost all the countries close to the northeast.

Indian traders are interested in importing electronic gadgets, synthetic blankets, teak, gold and semi-precious stones.

Assam, the gateway to the northeast, is about 2,000 km from New Delhi and some 3,000 km from Mumbai. Yangon, Bangkok and even some Chinese cities are much closer to most northeastern states than New Delhi or Mumbai.