Mon, Dec 27, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Activists, farmers rally to support `rice bomber'

WHOSE SECURITY?While Yang Ju-men's antics might have endangered the public, they have also focussed attention on the plight of farmers after WTO entry

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH AGENCIES

Hundreds of activists and farmers yesterday rallied in Erlin Township, Changhua County, home to Yang Ju-men (楊儒門), the so-called "rice bomber."

Yang is accused of mounting a bombing campaign to protest rice imports and to urge the government to reshape agricultural policies to better take care of the welfare of farmers and their families.

The demonstration yesterday was held in front of Yang's home by about 500 farmers and activists from more than 20 environmental, labor, and other civic groups.

Protesters claimed that local rice producers' welfare had been jeopardized by Taiwan's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), prompting Yang's actions.

The rice bomber's trademark was to leave rice near the bombs he planted.

On Nov. 26, police announced that DNA analysis linked Yang to the notorious rice bomber explosions and said he had admitted to 17 incidents. Since then, Yang, has been in custody.

The 26-year-old suspect, whose family have been rice farmers in Changhua for generations, has been the cause of a great deal of discussion on the topic of public safety vs support for local agriculture threatened by globalization.

A petition letter drafted by support groups has collected more than 30,000 signatures.

Yang Chang-shuen (楊昌順), the suspect's father, yesterday said he and his family were grateful for the support, adding that his son's behavior showed society's lack of fairness and justice.

"I hope his foolish behavior arouses the government's attention," Yang Chang-shuen said.

Seventy-year-old Yang Yung-tu (楊永塗), the suspect's grandfather, said the last few years had been the most challenging time in his life as a farmer. The price of rice grown per hectare has fallen from NT$100,000 to NT$70,000 since Taiwan entered the WTO in 2002.

"We know it was wrong to place bombs. Since my grandson caused no injury, we hope the government treats him fairly. After all, he did so to fight for farmers' right," Yang Yung-tu said.

According to the Council of Agriculture (COA), after entering the WTO in January, 2002, Taiwan has imported more than 144,720 tonnes of rice. However, COA officials said the imports have had little impact on local markets because the quantity accounts for only 8 percent of the nation's consumption.

However, activists have different opinions. They claim the government has called for restructuring of the agricultural sector without mapping out a strategy to provide farmers with a sustainable future.

"The case is just the tip of the iceberg. Social resources available to both farmers and fishermen have been insufficient for decades," Lai Wei-chieh (賴偉傑), director-general of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Some other civic groups condemned Yang's behavior, which they regarded as a threat to public safety. On Saturday, legislators, professors and representative from dozens of civic groups expressed their opposition to justifying Yang's behavior.

"We support farmers and would like to come up with strategies to ensure their livelihood. But the society should not tolerate bombers," Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Eugene Jao (趙永清) said.

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