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Myanmar obstructs historic Stillwell Road project

By K Anurag in Guwahati
June 17, 2009 20:53 IST
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The campaign to rebuild the historic Stilwell Road that passes through Myanmar connecting Ledo in eastern Assam and Yunan province in China, has run into an insurmountable road block with the Myanmar government unwilling to be a party to the effort.

As the road passes through insurgent-infested Kachin territory over which Myanmar government has no control, the military junta, that rules Myanmar, is firmly against re-opening the historic Second World War road for a tran-nation trade route.

"It is not possible for the government of India to open a road through another country and the efforts to re-open Stilwell Road is as good as coming to a naught," Union Minister for Development for North Eastern Region and Mines Bijoy Krishna Handique said on Wednesday.

The thickly forested and hugely under developed Kachin terrain within Myanmar houses hubs of many militant outfits, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khapalang, United Liberation Front of Asom and outfits from Manipur Kachin. The territory is under full control of these armed insurgent groups.

He however, raised hopes for connecting the landlocked North East to the Sittwe sea port in Myanmar through the Kaladan River that flows from Mizoram hills through Myanmar before it meets Bay of Bengal.

"The initiative taken by the commerce ministry to have access to Sittwe sea port from Mizoram through Myanmar has made progress and the possibility of it getting concretised has created excitement among various circles including trading community. If it materialises, the face of Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, will be changed as it will become a trade hub," the minister said.

India is likely to invest more than $103 million in the construction of the port, in the town of Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine state, while Myanmar has committed about $10 million in the joint venture project. Mizoram is about 160 kilometres from the port.

India and Myanmar have been giving final touches to a joint project, which will enable the North Eastern states to conduct trade directly with South-East Asia through Sittwe port, bypassing Bangladesh.

The development of the port is part of the Kaladan multi-modal transport project, which is being envisaged to facilitate movement of cargo vessels from Mizoram through Kaladan River, all the way to Sittwe.

Besides providing an access to South East Asia, Sittwe port would also be an exit point to mainland India. The port lies about 12 hours away from Haldia in West Bengal, 36 from Vishakapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh.

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K Anurag in Guwahati