Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) yesterday mourned those who perished in the village of Siaolin (小林), Greater Kaohsiung, in 2009 and reiterated the government’s responsibility to care for people’s well-being as he concluded his three-day visit to southern Taiwan.
Lee, in a ceremony held at Siaolin Memorial Park yesterday morning, mourned the 462 people killed at Siaolin, which was wiped out in a landslide when Typhoon Morakot devastated the south of the nation in August 2009.
The 89-year-old said it has always been his wish to pay tribute to the dead in Siaolin and he always has a “heartbroken” feeling whenever he thinks about the tragedy, but he had to wait until he had recovered from surgery for cancer to visit the park.
Accompanied by Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) and a group of residents, Lee toured the park and presented bouquets in front of a pyramid-shaped stone memorial.
He praised the rebuilding efforts of the Greater Kaohsiung Government, saying it was able to take care of the survivors by relocating the village and a permanent housing project, as well as commemorating the deceased, including the installation of 462 name plaques for the dead and the planting of 181 trees at the park to symbolize the 181 families that lived in the village.
“Rarely have we seen governments around the world that have been able to rebuild with such efficiency,” he said. “This is what a democratic society is all about. Governments implement every policy with people’s well-being and their benefit in mind.”
That is why he was promoting local autonomy and local governments, as opposed to the centralization of power, during his three-day trip to Pingtung County and Greater Kaohsiung, he said.
The former president on Wednesday and Thursday urged local governments to fight for their power, rights and land, because the central government neither understands the public’s hardships and difficulties, nor listens to public opinion.
Speaking at a plaza in the memorial park against the backdrop of the devastating landslide, Lee said the park “means a lot to me personally.”
Lee said he had visited the area twice now and both visits had symbolic implications.
In 1986, when he served as vice president under then-president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), Lee, a devout Christian, was given an order to resolve the “Mount Zion controversy,” Lee recalled.
Mount Zion is a 200 hectare mountainous area bought and developed by a New Testament Church in the 1960s.
The church promoted self-government and had a long history of fighting against the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime, which deployed police and troops to expel worshipers from the area by force, raising human rights concerns.
The visit was the first of a series of trips Lee is scheduled to embark upon, with trips to other parts of the nation being planned.