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Push for India-Burma-China Road Link to Re-Open

Surajit Khaund, Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

January 12, 2004

The regional governments of north-east India have long requested that the famous Stillwell Road be reopened in order to facilitate trade with Burma and south-east Asia.

Despite their pleas, India and Burma have made it clear that they are not willing to meet the demand to have the road reopened any time. Militant groups dominate a huge area of the road, and leaders from India and Burma believe that if the road were opened, it would help the insurgent groups to carry forward their subversive activities in the region.

The Indian Home Ministry has openly stated this as being the prime reason for keeping the road closed. The decision has irked several states in north-east India as they have been lobbying the Indian government to reopen the road in order to increase their volume of trade.

The economic cooperation between India and other south-east Asian countries has been increasing rapidly and hence several states from north-east India – including Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh - have been urging the Indian Commerce Ministry to consider reopening the road. The states adopted a resolution in 2001 in which the transport ministers from the region appealed to the Indian Surface Transport Ministry to conduct a detailed survey of the road in association with the Burmese government. Over two years later and the delaying tactics adopted by the Indian government over the road survey have north-east Indian local governments worried.

The famous Stillwell Road was built by the British during World War II. Covering a distance of over 1000km, the road originates in Ledo, Assam, and passes through the Hukawng Valley in Mytkyina, Burma, before finishing at Kunming in Yunan Province, China. A 300km stretch of the road passes through the Kachin area of Burma. Considering the situation in Kachin, where the Junta has little to no control, the Burmese are not keen to reopen the road. As a result, the Junta has continuously delayed the matter.

A spokesman from the Assam Department of Industry today said that the department has already drawn up ambitious plans to boost their trade with Burma and other south-east Asian countries and hence the Indian government should take an urgent step in this regard. He went on to say that the Indian Commerce Ministry has been stressing their desire to increase trade with south-east Asian countries, so the opening of the Stillwell Road should be supported at the highest levels. The Assam Department of Industry claims that the benefit would be felt by the entire country. The Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, has already submitted a memorandum to the Indian Government requesting the reopening the road.

Considering the delaying tactics adopted by both the Indian government and the Burmese Junta, the reopening of the road is not likely any time soon.

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