Burma Confirms Plans to Resurrect Death Railway

By Lawi Weng 4 July 2012

Burma’s Railways Minister Aung Min has confirmed plans to begin construction later this year of a railway linking Rangoon and Bangkok along the route of the notorious “Death Railway” built by Japanese-held prisoners of war during the Second World War.

Aung Min, who also acts as a government negotiator in talks with Burma’s ethnic armed groups, said during a press conference in Naypyidaw on July 1 that survey work on the project has already begun, and construction will commence at the end of the rainy season.

He added that the 415-km railway would benefit local people in Mon State, through which it will run, and will also facilitate closer trade ties with Thailand.

In 1943, thousands of Allied POWs and Asian laborers worked under the Imperial Japanese Army to build the Burma Railway, which later came to be known as the Death Railway because of the number of lives lost during the construction process. Many of the 1,740 people who died while working on the project are buried at the nearby war cemetery in Kanchanaburi.

The railway was abandoned more than six decades ago due to fighting between Burma’s armed forces and the Karen National Union (KNU). However, local motorists continue to use the route to travel from Three Pagodas Pass to Thanbyuzayat Township, Mon State, or Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township, Karen State.

Once hostilities between Naypyidaw and the KNU came to an end with the signing of a ceasefire agreement earlier this year, Burma expressed a strong interest in reviving the long-disused railway. The KNU also appears to support the project, although it has not made any public statement about it.

Another ethnic armed group that controls territory along the railway’s route, the New Mon State Party, has also given its tacit support.

During the press conference on Sunday, Aung Min said that Naypyidaw plans to launch a multilateral  conference including all ethnic people in Burma—a longstanding demand of many of the country’s ethnic armed groups.