Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Required military service for Aboriginal men debated

SERVICE Activists and lawmakers exchanged views on discontinuing mandatory service, a move many argue would help suffering communities improve financially

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Aboriginal rights activists, government representatives and lawmakers exchanged views yesterday or whether to end compulsory military service for the country's Aboriginal men or substitute it with compulsory community service.

The issue was discussed at a public hearing held by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the party's two Aboriginal lawmakers, Chen Ying (陳瑩) and Chen Shiu-hui (陳秀惠).

Although some government officials were skeptical, most participants agreed that putting Aboriginal men in Aboriginal community service would help to revive communities that are currently in decline.

"A harsh problem that the country's Aboriginal communities face at the moment is the migration of the younger population," Yang Chang-cheng (楊長鎮), director of the DPP's department of ethnic affairs, said at the public hearing.

The migration usually starts when a young man leaves his community to serve in the military and becomes "absorbed into main-stream society," he added.

migration

Such migration damages cultural and economic development of Aboriginal communities, he said.

Yang Yao-sung (楊曜誦), a community worker in Hsinchu County's Aboriginal community, backed Yang Chang-cheng's view.

"When I was in Smangus, I ran into some local young men who returned from their military service, want to help out in the village, but felt somewhat estranged from their own community," Yang Yao-sung said.

Smangus is an Atayal community in Hsinchu County.

Yang Yao-sung had another experience in which a non-Aboriginal man was sent to perform community service in an Aboriginal community, but could not do the job well because he was unfamiliar with the culture, the area and the people.

The problems could be solved if Aboriginal men could serve in Aboriginal communities, Chen Ying said.

Aboriginal activists and the representative from the Council of Indigenous Peoples agreed.

"Having Aboriginal young men serve in Aboriginal communities would infuse new blood into these communities mostly inhabited by older people and children," and thus help to revive the economy and strengthen the young men's ethnic self-identity, a Tsou tribe representative told the public hearing.

However, Lu Chien-chiang (盧建強), a Ministry of National Defense official, was concerned because "Aborigines represent a large percentage of highly rated professional soldiers."

Chou Huan-hsin (卓煥新), a Ministry of the Interior official, said that he was concerned that such a plan may create obstacles for interaction between Aborigines and non-Aborigines.

Chen Ying said she would make sure the plan would not create a shortage in military recruits.

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