‘Death Railway’ Stirs Debates Regarding UNESCO World Heritage Application

For people travelling through the province and staying in a Kanchanaburi river resort, one of the more notable landmarks is the Siam-Burma Railway or, as its more colloquially known, the Death Railway. An ominous name, to be sure, so much so that it’s led to debate regarding the current UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site application for the railway.

One of the key points fuelling the debate is the strong sense that any following generations must be taught history without any sort of sugar coating, telling it for what it is, whilst the counter-argument is that using the colloquial name might lead to diplomatic issues with Japan, which Thailand has been in a diplomatic relationship for several decades now.

A recent public hearing was held in Kanchanaburi, the capital of the eponymous province, with nearly half of the 450 participants in the meeting, which were from across four districts, alongside the Thai-Burma Railway¬† saying that they were in agreement regarding the concern with using the ‘Death Railway’ name could cause negative feelings and unneeded issues with Japan.

President Borvornvate Rungrujee, of the Thai Chapter of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), has advised the Kingdom against using the ‘Death Railway’ name for the official designation, arguing that doing so would make it look like they were blaming Japan.

Bornornvate said at the July 22 meeting that they will mention that the railway can be called as by the ‘Death Railway’ name, but do not recommend choosing it as the official one.

Currently, the draft of the application is being worked on, as is expected to be submitted by the Thai government come September, and should be added to the tentative list for the UNESCO World Heritage Secretariat by early 2020.

ICOMOS Thailand will be holding another meeting later in 2018 to finalize the name, and, according to the group, if the application succeeds it’ll be the Kingdom’s first Cultural Heritage site in over 25 years.

Chutimon Sitthiwong, a 42-year-old tour guide that operates near the Death Railway, has told people to visit the museums from their Kanchanaburi river resort, as it would be an eye opening experience. He says it’s not about laying blame on Japan; what’s done is done and the past is something that should be learned from, not brought up as the basis for more issues. He say that the idea is to make sure that cruel wars never happen ever again.

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