Islanders flee frontline

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 March, 1996, 12:00am

TAIWAN has begun evacuating the inhabitants of three frontline islands just 18.5 kilometres from where the PLA begins new exercises tomorrow.

Chen Tsui-tsai, Governor of Quemoy, said only 16 of the initial 50 to 60 residents on Wuchiu remained, the rest had left for the main island of Taiwan.

'I am recommending the Government encourages those remaining to also leave,' he said.

Officials also delivered ballot papers to Wuchiu in preparation for the possibility the island could be cut off by exercises before the election on Saturday.

Farther north, about 150 inhabitants of Tungchu and Hsichu, small islands in the Matsu group whose population is about 500, had left.

Local legislator Tsao Erh-chung said the situation on the islands was calm and there was no sign of panic. However, officials said people who decided to remain on islands in the Matsu group would be armed and trained to fight in the event of a mainland attack.

The islands are the nearest Taiwanese territory to the 6,112 square kilometre zone declared by China on Friday for air-sea-land exercises around the Chinese island of Pingtan, in the northern Taiwan Strait.

Taiwanese military sources say the week-long People Liberation Army (PLA) drill will simulate an amphibious landing, with the theoretical rehearsal target being the Pescadores, a strategic archipelago in the middle of the narrow waterway.

In response, anti-aircraft, anti-airborne landing and anti-amphibious landing drills were held in the Matsu group on Friday, Taiwan said.

Surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles had been deployed in most of the Matsu islands, including Tungyin islet northeast of Tungchu and Hsichu, they said.

An extensive number of warplanes were also deployed at Chiashan Air Base in eastern Taiwan to counter any PLA 'surprise attack' from that direction.

Shih Tze-chung, of the National Security Bureau, said Beijing appeared to be planning yet more exercises after the elections in an attempt to 'force us into talks' on reunification.

Other officials said there might be more manoeuvres because the PLA was still moving men and armament into Fujian.

Meanwhile, anger at the military exercises is growing in Taipei. Yesterday, more than 20,000 pro-independence activists took part in a rally protesting against mainland intimidation.

The Taipei stock market remained stable, with the index rising 0.1 per cent. But the Government again bought up stocks to counter selling pressure.