Trying to honor Asians who died building Burma-Thailand rail in WWII

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The construction of what is sometimes called the "Death Railway" linking Thailand with colonial Burma in the 1940s became a symbol of the cruelty inflicted by Japanese troops as they sought to conquer the lands of East Asia and beyond. Yet the largest group of victims, an estimated 70,000 Asian laborers, are barely commemorated here in Kanchanaburi and their remains lie for the most part where the Japanese dumped them: scattered up and down the railway line that is still partially in use today.

Some 200,000 to 300,000 Asian laborers - no one knows the exact number - were press-ganged by the Japanese and their surrogates to work on the railway: Tamils, Chinese and Malays from colonial Malaya; Burmese from present-day Myanmar; and Javanese from what is now Indonesia.

"It is almost forgotten history," said Sasidaran Sellappah, a retired plantation manager in Malaysia whose late father was part of a team of 120 Tamil workers from a rubber estate who were forced to work on the railway. Only 47 survived.

Sasidaran, who is helping lead a claim for compensation from the Japanese government, says he has met many families who knew so little about the railway that they failed to understand why their fathers or grandfathers left for Thailand and never returned.

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