06/22/2006, 00.00
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Silk Road threatens Sikkim tribes, says the Church

by Prakash Dubey
On the eve of the opening of the mythical Himalayan pass, the diocese of Darjeeling warns that local tribes will be put at risk. "We are not against the pass but do not want to disappear. We are ready to fight to survive," says a young member of a local tribe.

Gangtok (AsiaNews) – Re-opening the Silk Road "threatens the lives of the Bhutias and the Lepchas, sister tribes that for centuries have lived in the shadow of the pass, and that are now threatened with extinction," said Fr Alex Gurung, secretary to the bishop of Darjeeling.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained that "what is development and modernisation for some is pollution and destruction for others. The life of these tribes will be hard hit in terms of their culture and social structure, which might not survive the impact."

"Nobody is listening to them, but that is expected. No one can be heard when trade talks, especially one with such a feeble voice," he lamented.

The mythical pass of Nathu-La, the "Silk Road", stands at 4,000 m above see level and joins Tibet to the Indian state of Sikkim. Next July 6, it will re-open after being closed for 44 years since the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

Christie Fernandez, assistant Union trade secretary, led a high level Indian delegation to Lhasa, Tibet's capital where the deal was finalised.

At the end of his visit last Tuesday, he "informally inaugurated" the pass by crossing it to get to Gangtok, Sikkim's capital.

The decision to re-open the Nathu-La pass is economic. Traders will only need a visa and not a passport and will be allowed to transport any good from one country to the other. Until now India and China could trade only 29 goods.

Prabhat Pahadi, a veteran of the border region conflict, told AsiaNews that "the deal was ready in 2005 but China had it delayed because it wanted to complete the Golmud to Lhasa railway track and its underground defence system".

The railway will kick off trading across the Nathu-La pass linking central China to India. For Pahadi trade could reach US$ 40 million by the end of this year and a few billions US in next few years.

Ruben, a young Lepcha, told AsiaNews that "no one is against opening the pass. All we want is that the necessary measures be taken so that the fresh traffic does not destroy our lives. We are a minority, but we are ready to fight even if it means going before the United Nations to obtain guarantees."

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See also
Nathu Pass linking Tibet and Sikkim set to reopen after 44 years
Nathu La Pass reopening, a crushing blow to the Tibetan cause
Nathu La Pass, "Gateway to the Silk Road"
Nepali parties to choose minority representatives
China’s Belt and Road losing momentum, at least in Europe
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