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Sikkim Hopes For Bus To Tibet

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 2003/07/22; July 22, 2003.]

By Pratap Chakravarty
DAWN - 22 July 2003 Tuesday

NEW DELHI: India's remote state of Sikkim hopes to launch a bus service to Tibet on the back of a new chapter in improved ties between Beijing and New Delhi, an official said on Monday.

The announcement came as Sikkim's Chief Minister Pawang Chamling prepared to fly to New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to discuss federal aid needed to resume trade between the far-eastern Indian state and adjoining Tibet.

"The chief minister will also explore with the prime minister possibilities of launching a bus service between Gangtok and Lhasa," the Press Trust of India quoted Chamling's political adviser B. B. Gooroong as saying.

"The step will further strengthen ties between the two neighbouring countries," he said.

Gooroong also said Sikkim, which is almost completely dependent on federal dole, needed to build up infrastructure from scratch for trade through the "silk route" in line with an accord signed last month between India and China.

The ancient silk route trade corridor to Tibet has remained shut since 1975, when Sikkim approved a referendum to turn away from China and merge with India.

The two sides agreed to open the route during Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's trip last month to China, in what some commentators saw as tacit recognition by Beijing of India's sovereignty over its former protectorate.

The move is widely expected to start a new chapter in overall Sino-Indian trade, which the Asian giants have forecast will double to $10 billion in the next few years.

Sikkim, one of India's 'Seven Sisters' far-eastern states, is a mountainous region with no industrial base, poor services and little scope for employment.

Sikkimese business forums predict that regional exports to Tibet would touch $203 million from the current figure of zero on the back of cross-border sale of vegetables, oils and household items.

The "silk route" bustled with trade after Tibetan price Phuntsog Namgyal was crowned Sikkim's ruler in 1642. British forces led by Francis Younghusband also used the route for their 1904 invasion of Tibet.

New Delhi-based officials from Chamling's provincial government said the Gangtok-Lhasa bus service would further bolster relations and help to boost trade. -AFP

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