Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Reporters walk out to protest MND officials' no-show

By Jimmy Chuang and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Ministry of National Defense officials yesterday faced an awkward and embarrassing moment as members of the press expressed their dissatisfaction over the failure of the ministry's high-level officials to show up at the year-end lunch gathering with reporters.

The media lodged a protest over the no-show, saying it showed a lack of respect for the ministry's guests.

"An event like this should be hosted by the heads of office and they should report to the public about what their offices have done in the past year," Kao Ling-yun (高凌雲), a veteran reporter from the Chinese-language United Evening News, told Deputy Chief of the General Staff Wu Da-peng (吳達澎).

"But what is this? The minister is not here. The vice ministers are not here. Even the chief of the general staff is not here," he said.

Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑), vice ministers Ko Cheng-heng (柯承亨) and Chu Kai-sheng (朱凱生) and newly appointed Chief of the General Staff Hou Shou-yeh (霍守業) were all conspicuously absent from the meeting.

Lee's absence set off speculation that the defense minister was trying to avoid the press.

Lee on Tuesday stirred a hornet's nest with his remarks that he was ready to leave his post anytime but that no qualified "civilian minister" could be found to replace him. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rebutted those remarks the following day by saying that there were several qualified civilian candidates who could fill the post.

Unhappy with Lee's absence, several reporters left the meeting, leaving more than 20 empty seats at the scene unoccupied.

Lee showed up at the lunch gathering some 30 minutes later, telling the remaining group of reporters that he was not trying to avoid the press.

"It was really a coincidence that the vice ministers, chief of general staff and me had things to attend to and places to visit," he said. "We all had different schedules and places to visit," he said.

Lee had earlier accompanied 120 participants at a two-day regional security forum, which included retired officials and university professors from the US, Japan, India and Taiwan, on a visit to the Kidd-class destroyers' base in Suao (蘇澳).

In related news, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) yesterday said that Vice Minister of Defense Ko could be a suitable candidate to fill the ministerial post.

Chiuo stressed though that Ko was not the president's only choice, as Chen had said he had several civilian candidates in mind.

Chiou made the remarks in response to media inquiry on whether the president's comments on Wednesday meant he was preparing to replace Lee Jye with Ko.

Ko has been assisting Chen in dealing with national defense matters from the time Chen served as a legislator. He is often rumored to be the president's choice to be Lee's replacement.

"It's hard to conclude what characteristics a civilian should possess to qualify as defense minister. For example, Donald Rums-feld was a university professor, while Robert McNamara came from the business world,"Chiou said.

Chen recently appointed Shi Hwei-yow (許惠祐), deputy director of the National Security Bureau, as the agency's first civilian head, triggering speculation that he would also appoint a civilian defense minister in the near future.

Asked whether Chen would push for civilian control of the military before his term expired, Chiou said he had no idea.

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