Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Executive Yuan heeds Aborigines with draft land bill

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

In an apparent move to alleviate the concerns of Aborigines, farming, logging and land development on mountainous areas higher than 1,500m will be banned, except for those in Aboriginal settlements, according to a special bill on land conservation approved by the Executive Yuan yesterday.

Four state-run farms located on mountainous areas would have to go fallow within three years.

Under the special draft bill on land restoration and conservation (國土復育特別條例), the nation's mountainous areas will be classified into three conservation zones.

Category one areas are those higher than 1,500m, where farming, logging and land development will be banned.

Farmland must be allowed to go fallow and existing buildings or facilities will have to be demolished within five to 15 years.

Certain exceptions will be allowed, however. These include Aboriginal settlements with more than 30 families, facilities for conservation, study or tourism, Aboriginal historical relics, defense facilities and public facilities.

Category two would cover mountainous areas between 500m and 1,500m. New farming or new developments will be banned, but existing legal operators will be allowed to remain.

Category three areas include mountainous areas lower than 500m. Any land developments must be based on sustainable development and local governments are required to regularly review their development policies and obtain permission from the central government for developing land.

The draft also recommends spending NT$100 billion over the next 10 years on land restoration projects.

The fund would help Aboriginal settlements that are willing to relocate in a group. The draft stipulates that the central government should find a new place for them to live and help them with employment, education and preserving their traditions and culture.

While some have argued that the bill will jeopardize the livelihoods of Aboriginal people, Chang Ching-sen (張景森), vice chairman of the Cabinet's Council for Economic Planning and Development, said that this was a groundless accusation.

"Statistics show that 99 percent of Aborigines live in mountainous areas lower than 1,500m," he said.

Chang also dismissed talk that compromises had been made during the drafting process.

"There's no compromise. I'd rather call it negotiation, if anything," he said. "Some might have the wrong impression that the bill is not welcomed by the Aboriginal people. Apparently, they've been misled by certain political parties and false media reports."

If the bill passes the legislature, Chang made it clear that the government will not send any more money to fix the damaged section of the Central Cross-Island Highway because of its fragile geology.

Chang, however, said the government will continue to push for construction of a freeway connecting Ilan and Hualien. The project has been criticized by environmental groups as being damaging to the environment.

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