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Taiwan plans troop withdrawal from islets near China
by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) Feb 20, 2013

Taiwan activists demand Japan pay for damaged boat
Taipei (AFP) Feb 20, 2013 - Taiwanese activists on Wednesday demanded Tw$5 million ($173,000) in compensation from Japan for allegedly damaging a boat they sailed near disputed islands during a protest last month.

The boat, which carried seven people, abandoned a plan to land on the East China Sea islands after being blocked by Japanese coastguard vessels which fired water cannon at it, the activists said.

The fishing boat was badly damaged during the encounter on January 24, they said, adding that it would cost an estimated Tw$3 million to repair or replace two engines and some electronic and wooden equipment on the boat.

"We also demand an additional Tw$2 million for the emotional distress we endured as the Japanese ships attempted to ram into our boat to bully unarmed Taiwanese people," said activist Tony Huang.

The disputed islands, in an area where the seabed is believed to harbour valuable mineral reserves, are known as the Senkakus in Japanese and the Diaoyus in Chinese.

Japan administers the islands, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.

The activists, from the Taiwan-based Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais (Diaoyu Islands), protested outside Japan's de facto embassy in Taipei and handed a petition letter for the compensation claim, Huang said.

Coastguard vessels from Japan and Taiwan also exchanged water cannon barrages in September after dozens of Taiwanese boats were escorted by patrol ships into the islands' waters.

Previous activist landings have resulted in the arrest and deportation of those setting foot on what Japan says has been its indisputable territory for more than a century.

The incident came at a time of growing concern over the intensified standoff between China and Japan in the territorial row.

Tokyo recently accused the crew of a Chinese frigate of locking its weapons-tracking radar on a Japanese destroyer, a claim Beijing has denied.

Taiwan plans to withdraw troops from two islets near the Chinese mainland and will turn the former battleground into a tourist attraction as relations improve, officials said Wednesday.

The two tiny islets, Tatan and Ertan, form part of the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen island group off southeast China's Xiamen city and are currently manned by around 120 soldiers.

Kinmen county magistrate Lee Wuo-shih Tuesday discussed the plan for the two islands with minister without portfolio Lin Cheng-ze.

"The minister has in principle agreed to our plan of troop withdrawal from the two islets... once the plan is completed, it will be another crucial sign of the improving ties between Taiwan and the mainland," Lee told AFP.

The two islets, which together have an area of little more than one square kilometer (0.4 square mile), are about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from Xiamen at the nearest point.

While the two islets may soon be emptied of soldiers, there is no indication that Taiwan will terminate its garrison on much-larger Kinmen island any time soon. The exact number of soldiers there is a secret.

Lee said he was confident that reminders of a fierce 1950 battle on the two fortified islets would lure visitors from both Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

"Various sites related to the battle remain intact. This is bound to attract a lot of interest from tourists," he said.

According to Taiwan's military authorities, a 300-strong Taiwanese garrison wiped out more than 700 Chinese troops trying to land on the fortified frontline islets following an intensive artillery bombardment in July 1950.

The battle was part of the Chinese communists' attempts to invade Taiwan, where troops led by Chiang Kai-shek took refuge after being driven from the mainland at the end of a civil war in 1949.

The Chinese army fired more than 470,000 shells on Kinmen and other nearby islets in a 44-day bombardment beginning on August 23, 1958, killing 618 servicemen and civilians and injuring more than 2,600.

As late as the 1970s China still bombarded the island, although by then the shells were stuffed with propaganda leaflets.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased since China-friendly Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008, pledging to strengthen trade links and allow in more mainland tourists.

Ma was re-elected in January 2012 for a second and last four-year term.


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