Thursday, September 21, 2017

‘Death rail’ to be rebuilt

Myanmar's notorious wartime “Burma Death Railway” is to be rebuilt as a road – as part of a regional scheme to connect ASEAN member states.

A section of the route of the proposed Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Corridor Connectivity project will incorporate the ill-famed route.

The project is intended to connect Myanmar with fellow ASEAN members Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and eventually with regional trading partners China and India.

Dr Olarn Chaipravat, Thailand’s Trade Representative, said his government had invested US$750 million to trade with GMS countries and planned to invest $1 billion in 2015. The Thai government hopes to increase its trade with China.

Japan, which ordered the building of the railway in 1943 to support its occupying troops in the then Burma, also favours the project.

“Improved regional connectivity will help ASEAN members to offset the influence of the big countries,” said Dr Fukunari Kimura, chief economist of ERIA, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

Myanmar needed to promote regional development and set up more industry on its borders in order to strengthen border trade with China, India and Thailand, boosting its export rates, said Mr Yasushi Iwata, ERIA’s general manager said.

International funding will support the construction, according to the Ministry of Transportation, Construction and Communication.

“We are monitoring progress every year and of the 695 infrastructure projects, 20 percent are now in the implementation stage, while the remaining 80 percent are at the feasibility study level,” said Professor Hidetoshi Nishimura, ERIA’s executive director.

Forced labour was used in the construction of the Burma Death Railway. with about 180,000 Asian labourers and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war having worked on it. Of these, about 90,000 Asian labourer and 12,399 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6318 British personnel, 2815 Australians, 2490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders, Australian historian Lionel Wigmore has written in the past.