(Rptg, rephrasing lead para)

Published: Thursday, July 6, 2006, 17:07 [IST]

Nathu La, India-China border, July 6 (UNI) Setting aside the protracted boundary dispute between them, India and China today recreated history when Nathu La Pass, a part of the ancient Silk Route, was reopened after 44 years for resumption of border trade between the two Asian economic giants.

Braving rains and freezing cold, hundreds of Indian and Chinese delegates exchanged greetings atop the 14,200-feet-icy field to mark re-opening of the ancient silk route for fresh trading between the two countries.

At 0900 hrs IST, before trading was declared open, the Indian tri-colour and Chinese national flag were hoisted on both sides of the border.

The wind-swept Himalayan pass, at a height of 14,200 feet on the Sino-Indian border, connects Sikkim with South Tibet.

It was closed after the 1962 India-China war when it witnessed skirmishes between the two armies.

However, with the two neighbouring nations cozying up in recent times, the pass was originally scheduled to be re-opened last year.

The plan could not be carried out then because of infrastructural problems and the pass was finaly re-opened today.

The re-opening of the pass is expected to create an economic boom for the region and considerably boost India-China trade.

In near zero visibility, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling and Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), C Phuntsok, declared the border pass open by cutting the ceremonial ribbon at a function organised here to mark the historic event.

Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, TAR Vice-Chairman Hao Peng and General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 17 mountain division K T Parnaik were among a host of dignitaries present on the occasion.

Braving inclement weather on the icy heights, about 700 invitees, including ministers from Sikkim, top central and state government officials, security personnel and media representatives of various national and international organisations assembled at Nathu La to witness the historic event.

After the reopening of the Nathu La trade route, Mr Chamling in another function, inaugurated the Sherathang trade mart five km down the line from Nathu La.

At least 100 traders from India crossed the international border to see the wares displayed by the Chinese in their trade mart at Renqinggang, about 30 km from here, and an equal number of Chinese merchants came to see the Indian trade hub signalling the beginning of business between the two neighbours.

With the re-opening of the trade route, Nathu La became the third point for border trade with TAR after Shipkela in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh in Uttaranchal.

The first step to re-open trade at Nathu La was taken after the two countries signed an MoU during the visit of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to China in June 2003.

After several rounds of discussions spread over the last three years, an Indian delegation, led by the Union Commerce and Industries Secretary S N Menon finalised July six for the re-opening of the route during a meeting with TAR authorities in Lhasa last month.

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