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Thailand considers World Heritage status for 'Death Railway'+
[February 20, 2006]

Thailand considers World Heritage status for 'Death Railway'+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)BANGKOK, Feb. 20_(Kyodo) _ A high-ranking official of the Tourism Authority of Thailand on Monday welcomed the initiative of a former Japanese military interpreter who was involved in the construction of the infamous Thailand-Burma railway during World War II to seek to have the ruins of the railway designated as a World Heritage site.

"It is a very good idea. However, we need to secure cooperation from other countries to win approval for the World Heritage designation," TAT's Executive Director of Product Promotion Department Charubun Pananon told Takashi Nagase, the 88-year-old English teacher from Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture.

Charubun stressed that Thailand would have to consult on the plan with Britain, the Netherlands and Australia, whose thousands of nationals perished while they were forced to construct the 415-kilometer railway linking Thailand and Burma, now Myanmar.

The railway is known as the "Death Railway" as about 16,000 Allied prisoners-of-war, including British, Dutch and Australian nationals died along with 80,000 to 100,000 Asian forced laborers while building it.

The railway was completed in October 1943 after about 18 months of construction work with a labor force of about 400,000.

But most of the railway was abandoned after the war due partly to high maintenance costs, and currently the railway operates along only a 130-km portion in Thailand.

When the railway was being constructed, Nagase acted as an interpreter for the Japanese military.

Shortly after the war, he was deployed by the Allied Forces on a mission to search for the bodies of the allied soldiers who perished while building the railroad, and confirmed the remains of more than 13,000 POWs.

To atone for his wartime activities, Nagase organized a meeting of reconciliation between the former Japanese army members and POWs in 1976, and together with them Nagase crossed over the "death" railroad bridge over the River Kwai in western Thailand.

The railway was the subject of the famous 1957 film "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

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