Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Seventeen Chinese tourists disappear

PUZZLING Officials discounted speculation that the missing tourists might have anything to do with today's military exercises, saying gangsters might be involved

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

A group of Chinese tourists has been missing since arriving in Taiwan last Tuesday, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) confirmed yesterday, on the eve of the annual Hankuang military exercises.

According to the council, all 17 members of the tour group failed to meet the Taiwanese travel agency that was to greet them at the airport last Tuesday. Two members of another tour group from China disappeared last Wednesday, and another the following day.

Council officials were quick to dismiss speculation about the tourists' disappearance, saying that the timing of the incident did not necessarily indicate any link to the Hankuang drills, or Beijing's military exercises on Dongshan island off Fujian Province and its test of ballistic missiles in Shanxi Province later this month.

MAC Vice Chairman Liu Te-shun (劉德勳) said the police suspect that the disappearance of the group of 17 tourists had something to do with the activities of gangs involved in human trafficking.

Liu said the disappearance of individuals on the 14th and the 15th was a totally different matter to the disappearance of the group on the 13th.

"Since allowing Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, we've seen a few cases in which tourists unexpectedly leave their group. Usually these people return to the group later," Liu said.

Liu said that the travel agency immediately reported the disappearance of the 17-person group to the authorities.

He said that government agencies have a good idea of where the missing people might be.

The group originally departed from Fujian Province and consisted of more men than women. All the members of the group are middle-aged.

"MAC records show that 2,151 Chinese tourists visited Taiwan in 2002, 12,775 in 2003 and 8,448 tourists up to July of this year," council spokesman Chiu Tai-san (邱太三) said.

The council has no record of any Chinese tourists disappearing in 2002, while three disappeared last year. Liu said that to date these three have not been located.

"Of the 12,775 Chinese tourists who visited Taiwan in 2002, only three disappeared -- that's roughly one out of every 4,000," Chiu said.

Despite suspicions that the missing tourists might be illegal immigrants, council officials said yesterday that the incident would not affect current tourism policies.

"If safety is a concern, then we will work on improving it, but the policy will not change," MAC Chairman Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said.

Taiwan first opened its doors to Chinese tourists in January 2002, but at the time permitted only people in the so-called "third category" -- those who were studying overseas or who have permanent residence in a foreign country -- to visit. The government later changed the definition of "third category" to include those who have lived and worked in Hong Kong or Macau for more than four years.

In May 2002, the government further relaxed the regulations, allowing tour groups of "second category" Chinese nationals to enter the country. The second category includes visitors who make stops in other countries, either for business or pleasure, before arriving in Taiwan.

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