Shan State officials seek new route for China trade

Shan State officials say they are planning to conduct surveys for a new road that would divert traffic from one of Myanmar’s main trading routes and open up business with China.

The Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Road, which passes through Shan State, is plagued by constant traffic jams and frequent accidents, said U Aung Kyaw Nyunt, minister for Shan State planning and economy.

The road is being repaired and widened in places, he said, but this is held back by security concerns. Fighting between ethnic armed groups and the Tatmadaw over the past few years has led thousands of villagers in northern Shan State to flee their homes.

Every day, around 1500 trucks travel the 114-mile (183 kilometre) road, accounting for up to 80 percent of trade between Myanmar and its largest trading partner, China. Ministry of Commerce statistics show between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of goods pass daily along the road.

To promote trade, ministerial departments and governing bodies need to cooperate to repair and widen the two-lane road, commerce minister U Win Myint told The Myanmar Times. A single broken-down car can cause jams on the road, which cuts through the mountains, for up to three days.

However, U Win Myint said that as the area has still security problems, and battles between ethnic groups and the Tatmadaw are not uncommon, it is hard to estimate when field groups might be able to find a way to develop the road.

U Aung Kyaw Nyunt told The Myanmar Times that Asia World Group had reported a plan to build a new bridge near to Gokteik. “Asia World could also expand the [two-lane] road between Nam Hpat Kar and Kutkai, but we must also consider security concerns, as ethnic armed groups often travel through this area.”

The Kachin Independence Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and armed Shan ethnic groups often pass between Kutkai and Nam Hpat Kar, traders and residents said.

Asia World Company signed a 30-year contract with the previous government under build, operate, transfer terms, to repair and maintain the road, and expand its width to 50 feet (1525 metres), which it has done between Hseni and Kutkai, said U Aung Kyaw Nyunt. However, he added the company has come up against difficulties in places where there is little space to widen the road, or where alternative side-routes are deemed unsafe.

A spokesperson for Asia World Group, when asked about the road, said the company sold all its toll-road interests last year “as part of its restructuring exercise”.

The road is still managed by former subsidiary Oriental Highway Company, which is no longer part of Asia World’s group of companies, the spokesperson said in an email, declining to comment further.

A senior official in the Muse District Administration Department told The Myanmar Times that a new road may be the only solution. “We think this problem could only be solved by finding a separate route,” he said. “Places [along the existing route] like Shu-khin Mountain have very steep slopes and many limitations.”

Between Nam Hpat Kar and Kutkai, on one side of the road is a ravine and on the other a ridge, he said. “It is not possible to fit more than three cars side-by-side. There are a lot of limitations to expanding a mountain road. No more mountains can be demolished. In some places, the only solution would be to build bridges.”

He added, “The Union and state governments are conducting a survey to find new place to build a new road.”

The Road Administration Department has also been asked to survey the area, but has been held back by security concerns, he said. “There are security issues with checking old paths and shortcuts to find out whether they could be used, but we plan to do this.”

Although a new route needs to be found, problems also include unskilled drivers and unsafe vehicles, he said. Traffic police from northern Shan State have been installed along the existing route since the start of the year to direct cars and keep the road as clear as possible.

 

Source: Myanmar Times

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