Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 10:07 UK

India not to reopen key WWII road

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Entrance to Stillwell Road
Opening the road could boost trade with China (Pictures: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee)

India has abandoned plans to reopen a World War Two road that could connect its remote north-eastern states to China's Yunnan province through Burma.

Lawmakers from India's Assam state have been informed of the Indian decision by its ministry for the development of the north-eastern region.

This comes days after the 13th round of talks between India and China to resolve their border dispute.

The talks failed to break the impasse and both sides agreed to keep talking.

The 1,079-mile-long Stillwell Road was built by American general Joe "Vinegar" Stillwell to supply Kuomintang forces in the war against Japan.

The road begins from Ledo in Assam and ends in China's Yunnan after traversing through Burma's Kachin state province.

Assam's Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi, who represents a constituency around Ledo in the Assam state assembly, has been a strong advocate of reopening the road.

'Good for trade'

"This road could easily handle a substantial part of India's growing bilateral trade with China because of cost and time benefits," Mr Bordoloi, who is from India's ruling Congress party, said.

"Both sides would save much in transport costs in exporting and importing goods meant for India's eastern and north-eastern region and China's remote southwest."

The road, built at the cost of $137m in 1944, handled up to 65,000 tonnes of cargo during World War Two.

Stillwell Road
The road has fallen into disrepair because of a lack of use

Many war historians say this road kept Kuomintang in the war.

"This road will be capable of handling between 15% and 20% of the Sino-Indian bilateral trade," says Nazeeb Arif, a former secretary-general of the Indian Chamber of Commerce who hails from Assam.

Mr Arif says he has done an extensive survey on the potential of the Stillwell Road.

"If this road was opened, it would have encouraged Indian industry to invest in production hubs in our under-developed north-eastern states to make goods meant for export to China. Our economies would have thrived," Mr Arif said.

Nagaland's Chief Minister Neiphue Rio echoed a similar sentiment.

"That is what Delhi does not very often understand. Border trade can be very good for states like ours," he said.

India reopened the 15,000-foot-high Nathu La pass in the Himalayan state of Sikkim for border trade with China in July 2006.

But trade has been poor because the pass is under snow for a few months during the winter and cannot take heavy container traffic.

Stillwell Road does not suffer freezing because its passes are much lower than Nathu La.

Burma, however, has not been very keen on reopening the road because it passes through the Kachin state, which its army has barely controlled since Independence.

Large parts of the Kachin state were controlled by the separatist Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since the 1960s.

Though the KIA has been maintaining a ceasefire with the Burmese army since 1994, it continues to control border trade in gems, timber and other precious stones like jade.

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