Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Brass apologizes for Kinmen blasts

SMOKE AND FLARES As if China's bombing of the island in the 1950s wasn't enough, now residents have to contend with old ordnance deep in the hills

CNA , TAIPEI

A ranking defense official yesterday apologized to the people of Kinmen for a series of explosions last week involving thousands of old phosphorus flares and smoke bombs, and vowed to find out what happened.

Vice Chief of the General Staff Feng Shih-kuang (馮世寬) was speaking with more than 60 locals, among them Kinmen County Commissioner Lee Chu-feng (李炷烽) and Kinmen's New Party Legislator Wu Cheng-tien (吳成典).

The incident occurred last Thursday afternoon. An initial investigation found that more than 9,000 yellow phosphorous signal flares and smoke bombs had been stored in a shaft, but investigators have been unable to determine how much of the ordnance exploded. The shells can ignite at the relatively low temperature of 44oC and may have been set off owing to recent hot weather.

panic

And although there were no casualties, residents in nearby villages panicked as the explosions continued for three hours. They also complained that fumes from the explosions induced coughing and irritation to the eyes.

Feng apologized on behalf of Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) and explained the ministry's procedures for handling old munitions.

Feng said that a tight budget notwithstanding, the military had always selected the best bomb-disposal companies to handle materials, adding that the military had also reduced its number of ammunition depots to 33 from 99, in line with promoting local tourism after troops stationed on the island were streamlined in 1996.

Lee Jye stressed that he would take charge of the investigation personally.

He said that if any negligence was discovered on the part of UXB International Inc, the US bomb disposal company that handled the ordnance, the military would hold it responsible.

clearing operations

A UXB International spokesperson denied the company had been negligent, adding that clearing operations would begin tomorrow, with chemical experts from the US using robots to enter the shaft and inspect the scene.

An official from the Kinmen Garrison Command also said the military would ensure that UXB International destroys all of the old munitions by the end of the year.

Lee Chu-feng said the old ordnance and mines were two obstacles to the development of Kinmen. The military needed to take the initiative in dealing with the issue, he said.

The military and UXB International said they had entered the shaft of Chaitzu Mountain for inspection on Sunday, but were stopped after only 10m because of fallen rocks. The temperature in the shaft was still high, although there was no trace of smoke, they said.

They said that they expected to report to Kinmen's residents about their findings in about two weeks.

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