Sun, Mar 03, 2002 - Page 3 News List

SEF announces hostage incident

By Lin Miao-Jung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two leaders of a Taiwanese tour group returned home Feb. 23 after being held hostage in China over a financial dispute, according to a statement released by the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) late Friday night.

The statement was the first news of the incident and did not contain much detail. It said the two had been unlawfully detained by -- and forced to hand over their travel documents to -- staff of a Chinese travel agency engaged in a collaborative venture with their employer, a Taiwanese agency. It said that the captors had claimed the Taiwanese agency owed them money.

An official at the SEF who wished to remain anonymous told the Taipei Times that the SEF had not made the incident public until Friday in order to "safeguard the security of the released hostages."

The two hostages escaped on Feb. 22 and immediately reported their ordeal to police in China. Members of staff of the Chinese travel agency were arrested later that day.

A representative of the Tai-wanese travel agency surnamed Tsai said, "Although the Chinese agency had signed a contract to guarantee our collaboration and the security of tourists from Taiwan, it broke its promise and committed acts of this sort.

"After this, I am afraid of doing business with Chinese people," Tsai added.

"This is not the first financial dispute involving travel agencies of the two sides," SEF Deputy Sectary-General Jan Jyh-horng (詹志宏) told the Taipei Times.

"But illegal detention is rare, and a serious crime."

According to Jan, financial disputes between travel agencies on either side of the Taiwan Strait are frequent.

"But there remains no means by which the two governments can solve the problems," Jan said.

Tense situation

* The Straits Exchange Foundation said late Friday that two leaders of a Taiwanese tour group were held hostage in China but returned safely Feb. 23.

* The SEF said it kept the situation secret so as to protect the hostages.

* The two tour leaders were reportedly held over a financial dispute with a Chinese travel agency.

* The two hostages escaped from their captors on Feb. 22.

Jan called on both Taiwanese and Chinese travel agencies to fulfil their contractual obligations and avoid disputes.

According to SEF statistics, more than 1 million Taiwanese have visited China each year since 1990.

Between 1990 and 2000, there were 216 accidents involving Taiwanese tourists in China.

There were 55 instances in which the SEF intervened on behalf of such tourists to resolve disputes between them and Chinese organizations.

Jan said the SEF has for that reason tried to "persuade the Chinese government to set up a dispute-resolution mechanism for the two sides, but failed to get agreement on the issue."

With little imminent prospect of the political stalemate between the two sides being resolved, Jan added that currently "there is no way to ensure the quality of travel in China."

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