Wed, Oct 08, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Island group will be demilitarized


The Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced plans to demilitarize six islands of the Kinmen group, but vowed not to withdraw all the troops from the region until China retracts its threat to use force against Taiwan.

The six islands -- Tatan, Erhtan, Tungting, Peiting, Menghuyu and Shihyu -- will be opened for tourism after they are taken over by the coast guard and Kinmen police.

The ministry did not make public the timetable for the demilitarization of the six islands but some defense officials said privately that it should happen in the coming months.

"The demilitarization of these six islands does not mean that we are to withdraw all the troops from the Kinmen island group or the Matsu region," said Major General Chao Ching-ho (趙清河), chief of the joint operations department. "This will not happen before China removes its threat of force against Taiwan.

"To prepare for possible scenarios in the Kinmen region following the demilitarization of the six islands, we will strengthen our fire power, mobility and intelligence monitoring and gathering capabilities," Chao said.

Chao made the remarks yesterday at a ministry press conference.

"Our arms buildup is focused on the enhancement of defense technology," he said. "We do not need to deploy tens or hundreds of thousands of troops on the Kinmen island group as in the past.

"After being demilitarized, the six islands are to taken over by the coast guard and the Kinmen government," he said. "They will be responsible for the security of these islands in the future."

The Coast Guard Administration (CGA) has said it may not be able to take over the six islands because it does not have enough personnel and equipment to safeguard so many islands at the same time.

The military currently deploys around 50 troops on the Tungting island, one of the six to be demilitarized. That number is the lowest in recent years. At its peak, the island had over 500 soldiers.

Even on the smaller Peiting island, there are some 30 troops. Peitung and Tungting are the only two islands of the Kinmen island group which have lighthouses dating back to the Ching dynasty.

The CGA does not have as many troops to maintain the same level of security as the military.

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