Fri, Jul 23, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Tourists may be `fifth column,' official says

By Lin Chieh-yu  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

An official in the government's national security system said yesterday that missing Chinese tourists may be in the nation to serve as a fifth column, stirring up trouble and endangering public order.

"The government's intelligence shows that the Chinese tourists who went missing recently have not affected the country's national security," said a high-ranking official who has responsibility for national security affairs.

"But some of these missing Chinese should be regarded as a new form of fifth column who infiltrate Taiwan to cause disturbances and damage Taiwan's public order," the official said.

"The police believe that commercial reasons -- to make money as illegal workers -- were the major reasons that the Chinese tourists went missing," the official said.

"But the National Security Bureau believes that some of the missing tourists were assigned particular tasks, such as setting fires or placing bombs, intended to cause social instability at a crucial moment," the official said.

The official noted that many Chinese tourists have disappeared and not been found. "They might serve as special agents, and the entire national security system has to enhance its efforts to develop precautionary measures to cope with any possible infiltration," the official said.

Minister of the Interior Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) has advocated setting up special procedures for dealing with Chinese tourists when they arrive at airports.

"It is necessary to create much stricter measures to ensure that Chinese tourists will not disappear," Su said.

Su said that if there were a special passageway at airports devoted to Chinese tourists entering the country, travel agencies could make sure that no tourists had disappeared. He even suggested that all Chinese tourists' passports should be collected by travel agencies to ensure that the tourists would leave the country.

"My idea has nothing to do with violating human rights," Su said.

"In an earlier era in the United States, there were so many illegal immigrants `jumping ship' that the government there had to take similar measures," Su said.

Su also said that the government has to penalize travel agencies that neglect to manage their tours correctly or that even assist tourists in disappearing.

"Travel agencies should enhance security efforts, such as strictly examining personal information before encouraging them to tour Taiwan," Su said.

"Travel agencies should suffer punishment along with government officials when tourists go missing," he said.

Meanwhile, two Chinese who left a tour group on July 14 were allegedly caught yesterday stealing items at CKS International Airport, the Aviation Police Bureau said.

The two Chinese were identified as Li Qiang (李強) and his girlfriend, Huang Jianying (黃見英).

Li allegedly told police that this was his second trip to Taiwan and that he and his girlfriend had visited relatives in Taipei and Kaohsiung over the past few days.

He also allegedly confessed to police that he had stolen handbags at the airport's second passenger terminal earlier this month.

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