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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 21:46 GMT

World: South Asia

India finds forest graves

By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

Around 1,500 wartime graves have been found on the India-Burma border along the old Stillwell Road, through which the allies used to send supplies to China during WWII.

The graves were discovered after months of effort by the State Research Department of India's north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

At least one grave, the State Research Department said, belongs to a Chinese commander. Some others belong to Chinese and allied troops as well as Indian labourers who worked on the Stilllwell Road.

But the identity of most of the graves is yet to be ascertained. This is the biggest discovery of its kind in this particular theatre of the war.

During WWII, the allies sent tens of thousands of tons of war supplies to Chiang Kai Shek's beleaguered Kuomingtang army through the Stillwell Road.

It took huge effort in men and material to build this road and hundreds of Indian labourers and some allied troops as well died of malaria and malnutrition, to build and maintain the Stillwell Road through one of the world's most inhospitable regions.

The road begins in India's tea-producing state of Assam. It passes through the dense forests of the neighbouring state of Arunachal Pradesh and Upper Burma's Kachin state before it ends up in China's Yunnan province.

Guerrilla road

After the war, this road fell into disuse and only separatist insurgents from north-east India were said to be using it to send guerrillas for training to neighbouring Burma and China.

Last year the State Research Department of Arunachal Pradesh started exploring the area after it received definite information about the existence of hundreds of wartime graves all along the Stillwell Road.

Mr Tage Tada, deputy director of this particular department, told the BBC in an interview that around 1,500 wartime graves had been found in this area so far.

Mr Tada said this is the first time Chinese war graves have been found inside Indian territory dating back to the war.

This, he said, will throw new light on the nature of actual military co-operation between the allies and the Chinese. Depending on funds secured, Mr Tada says his research department wants to start trial excavations in the whole area along the Stillwell Road within Indian territory.

He hopes that Burma and China, as well as the Commonwealth, may consider similar efforts to find out more about one of the largely untold stories of WWII.

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