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Mass WWII Grave Found Near Site of ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’

November 18, 1990 GMT

KANCHANABURI, Thailand (AP) _ A mass grave has been discovered near the site where more than 100,000 Asian slave workers and Allied prisoners died building a railroad for the Japanese during World War II.

The remains of several hundred people have been dug up since Tuesday, when the excavation began. It is being carried out by the Pothipawana Songkroh Foundation, which for religious reasons wants to provide proper burials.

Several dozen workers were digging Sunday in a sugar cane field in Kanchanaburi province, about 70 miles west of Bangkok. One skull was left out overnight - but workers first covered it with paper so it would not be cold.


About half the small plot has been excavated.

The mass grave is about three miles from a bridge made famous in the 1957 Hollywood movie, ″Bridge Over the River Kwai,″ which celebrated the heroism of the war captives.

A foundation official, Santi Assawaseeyotin, said it appeared the bones had been ″dumped into the ground, because they were found in some disorder.″

Santi said the bones were dating back to the World War II era.

″We believe they were bones of Asian people as the skulls found were not big,″ he said. ″There also were children’s bones.″

He said the remains were being brought to the foundation’s office in Bangkok, where they will be cleaned and cremated.

There was no direct evidence the bones belonged to the World War II prisoners. No such remains have been found in Kanchanaburi in recent years.

Also recovered were metal plates and bowls; on the back of several were written Made in Japan or Made in Hong Kong. The Bangkok Post newspaper said some had the year 1939 imprinted on them.

More than 100,000 Chinese, Indian, Malay, Burmese and other Asian slave laborers lost their lives building the railway in 1942-43, along with more than 16,000 British, Dutch, Australian, American, and New Zealand prisoners of war.

They died of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings and executions.

The Japanese had the 268-mile line connecting Thailand and Burma built for their planned invasion of India.

Ladda Matcha, 38, who lives near the grave, said the owner of a motorcyle repair shop also near there recently dreamed that the dead told him they could not breathe and asked him for help.


The man contacted the foundation, whose representatives secured permission from the landowner to dig, Mrs. Ladda said. The owner knew of the remains on her plot, but used it to grow sugar cane.

Mrs. Ladda’s mother, Pab Borngern, 77, said the Japanese constructed a military camp and tunnel in the area during the war.

″When the Indians (workers) died, they just carried them into the hole they dug up,″ she said. ″At the place where they found the bones, that was thousands of people buried there. Those peple died because of fever.″

The Bangkok Post quoted the landowner’s sister, Lek Pailom, 64, as saying field hospitals for Asian slave workers were in the area.

″Every morning, the Indians dug a hole in this area to bury dead bodies in the evening,″ she said. ″Some days, two or three bodies were buried, some days more than five.″

″This happened throughout the period of the railway construction,″ she said.

The discovery of the remains came just before the annual 11-day River Kwai Bridge Festival. This major tourist attraction of special shows and exhibitions is scheduled to begin Friday.

In March, Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan responded to objections by Australian veterans groups and Prime Minister Bob Hawke by barring shows that a tourism company planned along the railway. They were to have featured Japanese soldiers supervising work gangs.