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Assam digs up Stillwell tree

Assam has tracked down the 'offshoots' of two US soldiers who helped pave a historic road, writes R Karmakar.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2006 16:33 IST

Assam is digging its roots with gusto. After ferreting out the descendants of Lady Curzon and Robert Bruce — the tea pioneers — last year, it has tracked down the "offshoots" of two American soldiers who helped pave the historic Stillwell Road linking India and China during World War II.

Officials said Ron Bleeker and Otto G. Metheke III would figure in the line-up of 50 for eign invitees to the Dehing-Patkai festival, a three-day ethnic carnival, slated from January 7 at Lekhapani in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district. Forefathers of most of these 50, mostly Britons, were part of American general Joseph Stillwell's band of builders, who laid the 1,738-km road connecting Ledo in Assam and Kunming in China's Yunnan province.

"A bit of research and networking helped us locate the descendants of those involved in building the road," said Assam forest minister Pradyut Bordoloi. The minister said he would have ideally liked to invite Gen Stillwell's descendants, but they could not be traced. Part of the Stillwell Road, now dilapidated, runs through Bordoloi's turf Margherita.

"While Bleeker's father was a foot-soldier, Metheke's father was an army doctor posted at a hospital in Namduang Gate near Zero Point, the road's origin," Bor doloi said. Tinsukia district authorities said the decision to invite the pioneers' descendants was to draw global attention to the plight of the road in view of New Delhi's “Look East” policy. Both India and China have been trying to reopen the link to give border trade between India, Myanmar and China a leg-up. A recent report said using the road would slash the distance between India and China from 6,000 km to 1,300 km.

First Published: Jan 06, 2006 16:33 IST