Bangkok, Feb. 10 (Reuters): Thailand and military-ruled Myanmar are considering rebuilding the infamous “death railway”, basis for the 1957 film, Bridge on the River Kwai, to boost tourism, officials said today.
The railway, still in operation over a short distance near the Thai town of Kanchanaburi, 125 km west of Bangkok, cost the lives of tens of thousands of allied prisoners of war and Asian slave labourers during World War Two.
The Japanese imperial army had intended the railway to connect the Malayan peninsula with Myanmar, then known as Burma, to supply its troops in the region.
But construction took much longer than anticipated as the forced labourers battled their way through dense jungle and mountain passes in western Thailand and the line eventually stopped close to the Myanmar border.
Speaking today after a two-day trip to Myanmar, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the idea of the railway could be revived to bring thousands of overseas visitors to both countries. “Myanmar has asked us to build a railway from Kanchanaburi into Myanmar to promote trade and tourism,” he said.
Myanmar’s pro-democracy National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has said tourists should not go to the country while it is military-ruled. Several Western countries, including the US, have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar, citing human rights abuses including torture, forced labour and reports of the use of rape by the army against ethnic minority women and girls.
Thaksin did not say when the railway would be built or who would pay for its construction.
Thaksin flew to Myanmar yesterday to give his backing to the battle against drug trafficking and smuggling and promote cooperation along the border between the two countries.
He said suppressing crime would support tourism and Thailand was prepared to help mediate between Myanmar and some of the ethnic minority armies based along drug-infested border.