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Wed, May 03, 2000 - Page 3 News List

Optional service available for conscientious objectors

By Irene Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH DPA

Men in Taiwan who refuse to serve in the military for personal or religious reasons now have the option of fighting fires or helping the elderly under a new law which took effect yesterday.

From now on, young men who must take care of their families -- because their parents are old or families members are handicapped -- can apply for alternative service lasting two years and two months.

Other men who refuse to be drafted for religious or other reasons of conscience can apply for alternative service lasting two years and nine months.

The Alternative Service Law was passed by the legislature in January.

The Ministry of the Interior, which handles the operations of conscription, says there are 5,000 openings for alternative service this year.

A lottery will be held if demand outstrips the number of positions available.

Applicants can apply for positions in the police and fire service, as environmental protection workers, or as nurses for the elderly and handicapped.

Those who have been assessed as not being able to serve in the military for religious beliefs will be given priority.

Military service is mandatory for men in Taiwan, but some have refused to be drafted for personal or religious reasons.

The Alternative Service Law has drawn a great deal of attention from a total of 40,000 Jehovah's Witnesses nationwide.

For more than three decades since the denomination was introduced to Taiwan in the 1960s, over 100 have chosen to serve lengthy jail terms rather than induction. Those currently in jail can either be freed after serving three years of their sentences, or will be eligible to enter the alternative service program when it gets underway.

Registered under the name "Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society" in Taiwan, members of the Jehovah's Witness group are known to stay clear of politics and reject the idea that weapons can achieve peace.

At the beginning of the year, there were 28 Jehovah's Witnesses either currently in prison or on trial for refusing to serve.

Chiu Chao-an (邱照安) from Tainan, whose eldest son had spent seven years in jail before being released earlier this year, had said that his son was willing to pay the price for his beliefs.

"But it's definitely the right choice for my son to spend time doing something meaningful for society, rather than spend his time in jail," he said.

Annually, an average of 150,000 young men are conscripted to do two years' military service.

Under pressure from lawyers and religious groups, former Minister of National Defense, Chiang Chung-ling (蔣仲苓), said last year he approved of alternative service because the streamlining of the armed forces would free up some 30,000 conscripts a year.

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