Protesters head for Diaoyu islands

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 June, 2003, 12:00am

A boat carrying 13 Hong Kong and mainland activists was heading for the disputed Diaoyu islands last night in a fresh bid to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, vice-chairman of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu islands, said last night the boat with three Hong Kong and 10 mainland activists left Yuhuan county in Zhejiang province at 8am yesterday and was expected to arrive at the islets later today.

This latest attempt by the committee to land on the disputed islands comes exactly five years after their last visit there. During that protest, the Hong Kong-chartered Diao Yu Tai was sunk by the Japanese coastguard.

'We have planned this trip for a long time but the Sars outbreak forced us to postpone it,' Mr Ho said. 'We heard the Japanese government is going to build military facilities on the islands very soon, so we have to take action now.'

The Diaoyu island group, which is known in Japan as Senkaku, has a land mass of just 7 sq km. The five volcanic islets and three rocky outcrops lie 170km northeast of Taiwan and 410km west of Okinawa. The mainland, Taiwan and Japan all claim sovereignty over the area.

The 100-year-old dispute was rekindled on July 14, 1996, when the right-wing Japanese Youth Association landed and built a lighthouse on one of the islets.

Hong Kong and Taiwan activists responded with strong protests and sent vessels to the disputed area to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty. Their first wave of protests ended with the death of Hong Kong activist David Chan Yuk-cheung, who drowned during the voyage.