U.S. group expresses concern over highway projects at WWII crash sites in Arunachal

A U.S.-based advocacy group has expressed concern that projects in Arunachal Pradesh such as the proposed Frontier Highway along the India-Tibet border would disturb the resting places of 400 U.S. military aviators who lie unburied at World War II crash sites across the State.

The group, Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action, represents the kindred of the U.S. aviators who never returned from their missions across the eastern Himalayas for wartime emergencies. The U.S. Defense Department had in 2004 estimated that 400 American military aviators had crashed to their deaths in present-day Arunachal Pradesh.

Reacting to an interview of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu in The Hindu, the advocacy group’s founder-chairman Gary Zaetz said: “We are very concerned that the government of India will not be taking the necessary precautions to avoid disturbing these crash sites, which are the temporary resting places of our loved ones – temporary until India gives permission that all such crash sites may be recovered for human remains.”

Mr. Zaetz said that the Indian government had been ignoring the group’s periodic complaints about not protecting the known crash sites from “looters and unscrupulous tour companies”. The U.S. government too had not heeded their complaints that the pressure on India to protect the WWII crash sites was insufficient, he added.

“Now that the Frontier Highway (about 1,100 km) and the Trans-Arunachal Highway (1,600 km) projects are under way, our concerns that these construction efforts will disturb these crash sites, making recovery of our loved ones’ remains difficult or impossible, are multiplied,” Mr. Zaetz said via email.

The group pointed out that international law made it clear that India, like all other countries, was responsible for the protection of suspected locations of missing foreign servicemen within their borders.

An Arunachal Pradesh government spokesperson said care would be taken to not disturb the U.S. crash sites or relocate the remains of aircraft and aviators if found on the alignment of the highway projects. “We have written to the Centre on the need to preserve the crash sites. They are not giving permission for security reasons,” he said.

Teams from the U.S. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency have undertaken a few expeditions in the State to locate the remains of the U.S. servicemen. The last of these was in 2016.

The U.S. Air Force flew support missions to China and South East Asia against the Japanese army over Arunachal Pradesh during the last phase of WWII (1943-45). Many of the ill-fated warplanes tried to fly across ‘The Hump’, a Bermuda Triangle-like stretch in the eastern end of the Himalayas.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 8:18:37 AM |

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