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Tue, Feb 13, 2001 - Page 3 News List

Taiwan may help train Macedonia's F5E fighter pilots

MILITARY AID Following assistance to Singapore and other countries, the air force may aid the European nation, but a possible switch of ties to Beijing may stop the program in its tracks

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The air force is currently recruiting retired F-5E fighter pilots to help train pilots of the Macedonian Air Force in operating and maintaining newly-acquired second-hand F-5Es, according to defense sources.

But an air force general, speaking on condition of anonymity, hinted that whether the program proceeds or not could depend on relations between Macedonia and Taiwan.

The recruitment campaign has been warmly welcomed by ex-combat pilots. The remuneration is said to be generous and to be paid in US dollars.

It is not known how many pilots will be needed, but a high-ranking air force official said the number will not be great since Macedonia has acquired only a small number of F-5Es from their former owners in Europe.

Only pilots who have retired within the last two years can apply for the vacancies. The training assistance is said to be part of a defense accord, which Taiwan and Macedonia signed last October when Macedonian defense minister Liuben Paunoski visited Taiwan.

Minister of National Defense Wu Shih-wen (伍世文) is reported to be planning a visit to Macedonia for talks related to the pilots' training.

The Macedonian embassy in Taipei declined to comment on the issue yesterday.

If the training goes ahead, Macedonia will become the latest country to benefit from training by Taiwan's air force.

The air force has provided similar assistance to friendly countries such as Singapore, Jordan and several others. The Singapore Air Force, for instance, was established under Taiwan's assistance. But ironically Singapore now has become a model for Taiwan's air force with its consecutive seven-year zero-crash record.

Despite the poor safety record of Taiwan's air force over recent years, Macedonia is seeking help from Taiwan in training its pilots mainly because Taiwan still maintains a large fleet of the outdated F-5Es.

There has been speculation in recent weeks about a possible switch of Macedonia's diplomatic relations to Beijing, as Macedonia aims to bring its foreign policy in line with that of the EU, a condition for EU membership which Macedonia currently seeks. All EU member states recognize Beijing and maintain no official relations with Taipei.

An air force general, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that whether the pilot training program in Macedonia could be carried out would depend on the development of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Macedonia.

"What we see now is a not so happy picture. We will wait and see," the general said. He declined to elaborate on the issue.

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