Key trans-Burma trade route to reopen

Jan 13, 2010 (DVB), The Burmese junta has agreed to the reopening of an historic Second World War-era trade corridor linking China to India's North East states through northern Burma.

The Stilwell Road (formerly Ledo Road) has acted as an important trade route between Assam in India and China's southwestern Yunnan province. It originally acted as a supply route for Western Allies to the Chinese during the Second World War, but lack of maintenance since had forced its closure.

Burma's foreign minister, Nyan Win, announced the reopening during a speech at a Kolkata business summit last week. China had rebuilt the section of the road up to Tanai, in Burma's northern Kachin state, he said, while it was up to India to complete the rest of the work.

Delhi believes the road will boost development in the Assam region, which has generally lagged while much of the rest of India has accelerated. This is despite it providing India with around 25 percent of its crude oil.

Some analysts believe that it could accommodate nearly 20 percent of total bilateral trade between the two countries, and in 2006, some 10,000 demonstrators in Assam demanded its reopening.

China, which in 2006 became the world's third largest net importer of oil, is similarly keen to expand access to India, particularly as it eyes heavy growth in the underdeveloped Yunnan province.

Burma has historically tiptoed around the issue of reopening the 1,700 kilometer road, given that it runs through territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which holds a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta.

According to the Hindustan Times, however, Nyan Win acknowledged the importance of the route for both of Burma's neighbouring powerhouses.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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