Sat, Sep 01, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Residents want Wuchiu opened

DEMILITARIZATION The two islands that make up the township are just 37km from China and they remain under martial law, 20 years after it was lifted on Taiwan proper

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lawmakers, civic groups and residents of the islands of Wuchiu (烏坵) yesterday called for the demilitarization of the islands, saying that free movement on and off the island was nearly impossible.

Wuchiu Township, which consists of two small islands located halfway between Kinmen and Matsu, is just about 1.1km2 in area and only about 50 people live there.

Wuchiu used to be a key strategic site for the military because it is just 37km from China's Meizhou Island (湄州島).

Although martial law was lifted on Taiwan proper 20 years ago, Wuchiu remains under military control.

"Military controls have never been lifted for Wuchiu," said Gao Dan-hua (高丹華), a Wuchiu native and former deputy director of the Democratic Progressive Party's Department of Ethnic Affairs.

Limited freedom of movement is one of the major impacts of continued military rule.

"There's no civilian-run ferry service between Taiwan proper and Wuchiu or between Wuchiu and Kinmen," said Chen Chien-fu (陳建甫), the Taiwan Grassroot Union for Peace preparatory office director said. "The only way to travel [to Wuchiu] is to take the military supply ship that travels between Wuchiu and Taichung every 10 days."

Non-residents who want to visit Wuchiu, "have to apply to the Ministry of National Defense two weeks in advance, and there's no guarantee of approval," Chen said.

In order to push for the demilitarization of the islands, the union and other civic groups organized a trip to Wuchiu using a private charter boat, which was set to depart around midnight last night.

"We ran into so many difficulties when making arrangements for the trip," Chen said.

"Everyone -- including local Wuchiu officials and the company we were hiring the boat from -- wanted us to ask for permission to travel from the military first, although there's no law that requires this," he said.

"The military finally approved our trip yesterday [Thursday] after a direct order from the Minister of National Defense," Chen said, adding the order came as a result of help from several lawmakers.

"Wuchiu has a lot to offer visitors -- natural landscapes and valuable historic sites -- but it's nothing if no one can visit," Gao said.

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