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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Asia signs up to 'new Silk Road'
The east-west stretch of the Asian Highway
Asian countries have signed a landmark treaty to create a highway that will connect Asia with Europe, like the ancient Silk Road trading route.

The treaty was signed by 23 nations at a UN meeting and outlines a network that will link the continents in some 140,000 km (87,000 miles) of roads.

The UN first proposed the plan in 1959, but it was delayed during the Cold War.

"(This) highway will contribute tremendously to regional economic integration," a UN official said.

A continental web

The agreement on the road system was signed at a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) in the Chinese city of Shanghai.

Reports say the main route is expected to start in Tokyo and terminate in Istanbul - passing though North and South Korea, China and countries in South-East, Central and South Asia.

The Asian Highway Agreement is meant to ensure construction of a road system that would reduce the isolation of many landlocked Asian nations.

"For landlocked countries, the highway portends a revival of the cross-continent access that the legendary Silk Route provided in the early part of the first millennium," UNESCAP said in a press release.

Big nations like Japan, China, South Korea, Russia and India would also benefit from the better trade links, it added.

Regional integration

"Under the Cold War period we could not think of any highway running through China or even Russia or the Korean peninsula," said UNESCAP executive secretary Kim Hak-Su.

All Cold War states, including North Korea, had now agreed to develop the route, he added.

The agreement in Shanghai will outline roads to be built and upgraded and will set standards for the highway routes.

An overall budget and time-frame for completion are expected to be announced in 2006, AFP reported.

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