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Taiwan military drills in face of China tension
by Staff Writers
Kaohsiung, Taiwan (AFP) Jan 27, 2016

Taiwan court orders retrial of general cleared in conscript's death
Taipei (AFP) Jan 27, 2016 - Taiwan's top court on Wednesday ordered a retrial of a senior military official acquitted over the death of a young conscript that sparked widespread anger and brought down the then defence minister.

Corporal Hung Chung-chiu, 24, died of heatstroke on July 4, 2013 just three days before the end of his compulsory year-long military service.

His family said Hung was forced to do excessive exercise as punishment for taking a smartphone onto his base, and that he had previously filed complaints about other abuse meted out by his superiors.

Prosecutors had said that Hung was subjected to "cruel and abusive" exercises when indicting a number of military officials over his death.

Major General Shen Wei-chih, the former commander of Hung's brigade, was sentenced to six months in prison by a district court in 2014 on charges of abusing his authority to confine the young conscript.

Shen was among 13 military officials jailed by the court which also cleared five others for their roles in the case.

The high court cleared Shen a year later on the ground that he did not actually inflict harm on the young man or could have predicted the tragic outcome -- a ruling overturned by the supreme court on Wednesday.

"Doubt remains over whether or not he (Shen) fulfilled his obligation to look after (a subordinate) and if this was a negligence or an indirect but intentional act ... which should be thoroughly investigated and reviewed," the supreme court said in a statement.

Hung's case was one of the worst scandals to have hit the military and triggered massive street protests that brought down then defence minister Kao Hua-chu. It also dealt a big blow to the government of President Ma Ying-jeou, whose approval ratings were plummeting at the time.

Ma, of the China-friendly ruling Kuomintang, has less than four months left of his term and will be succeeded by Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who won presidential elections in a landslide victory earlier this month.

Taiwan carried out military drills Wednesday with naval chiefs assuring residents the island is safe, as concerns grow that tensions will escalate with China after recent presidential elections.

The drills were the first since Tsai Ing-wen of the China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) swept to victory in the elections earlier this month.

She ousted the ruling Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), bringing to an end eight years of unprecedented rapprochement with China.

On Wednesday, the Taiwanese navy displayed eight warships and fired flares from a missile corvette during an exercise in waters off Tsoying in southern Taiwan, home to the island's naval headquarters.

It was the second and final day of the drills which saw a group of elite frogmen land on a beach in motorboats Tuesday on the island of Kinmen -- a Taiwan-controlled outpost island near China's southeastern Xiamen city.

A fleet of F-16 fighter jets were also scrambled in another exercise Tuesday at the southern Chiayi airbase.

"With the Lunar New Year approaching, our citizens can feel at ease we are able to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait," Vice Admiral Tsai Hung-tu, head of the navy's political warfare office, told AFP.

Military exercises are routinely carried out by Taiwan before the Lunar New Year holidays which fall in February this year.

Although Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo with Beijing, relations are widely expected to cool as the DPP is traditionally a pro-independence party.

It does not recognise that Taiwan is part of "one China" -- a principle insisted upon by Beijing.

Taiwan is self-ruling after splitting from China in 1949 following a civil war, but has never formally declared independence. Beijing still sees it as part of its territory to be reunified.

China's state-controlled CCTV last week released footage it claimed depicted a drill recently carried out by Chinese forces, off the southeast coast of the mainland, near Taiwan.

Taiwan's defence ministry dismissed the footage, saying the images were collated from past manoeuvres.

A Taiwanese defence ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity told AFP that the move was part of Beijing's "psychological warfare" against Taiwan.

China has 1,500 missiles trained on Taiwan, according to the island's defence ministry.

China fired test missiles into the Taiwan Strait in a bid to deter voters in the island's first democratic elections in 1996.

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