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DEFENSE MINISTRY DEBUNKS MEDIA CLAIMS ON ELECTION-DAY TROOP STRENGTH

2004-05-02 20:18:03

    Taipei, May 2 (CNA) The Ministry of National Defense (MND) debunked a newspaper report Sunday that "somebody" had ordered an increase in the number of troops kept on duty on the March 20 presidential election day.

    According to the media report, Defense Minister Tang Yiau-min once hinted that "somebody" might have ordered more troops to stay in their barracks on election day in the wake of the March 19 assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian.

    The report further claimed that Tang had complained that the activation of the special national security mechanism after the shooting was purely a "campaign ploy."

    However, the MND's Military Spokesman's Office dismissed the report as sheer speculation. "The report is absolutely not factual, " the office said in a press statement.

    For one thing, the statement said, Tang was unlikely to have made any comment on government policy or measures because the military has consistently distanced itself from politics and strictly maintains administrative neutrality. "The military obeys the government's leadership and stays neutral toward all political affairs, " the statement said, adding that Tang was absolutely unlikely to have commented on any government measure as the media report claimed.

    The statement further said the MND has sent special teams to probe whether various military units kept troops on guard on election day in line with the existing combat preparedness regulations and whether they had increased the number of troops to stay in their barracks after the election-eve shooting. "The probes show that all military units followed the combat preparedness rules exactly in keeping the previously set number of troops on guard on election day and that none of them had increased the number of troops on duty, despite the March 19 shooting, " the statement said.

    It further said the MND already publicized two sets of special telephone lines (0800534780-5 and 0800534880-5) for officers and enlisted men to file complaints that they had been illegally asked to stay in barracks and consequently failed to cast their ballots in the hotly contested presidential election. "We have so far not received any complaint from military service personnel," the statement said.

    In preparation for possible probes into the combat preparedness situation on election day by the watchdog Control Yuan and the judicial authorities, the statement said, the MND has sealed all relevant documents and data. "The move signifies our responsible attitude, " the statement said, adding that the ministry will face any investigation squarely, since it did nothing wrong in keeping a legally specified number of troops on duty on election day.

    The opposition "pan-blue alliance" took the MND to task over the number of troops it claims were kept on duty on election day after its candidate, Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan, lost to incumbent President Chen Shui-bian by a narrow margin of 29,518 ballots out of more than 13 million ballots cast.

    The alliance claims that a large number of troops were banned from leaving the barracks after the election-eve shooting, resulting in Lien's defeat, as military servicemen have traditionally been the alliance's core supporters.

    On Saturday, the MND also denied a newspaper report that Chief of the General Staff Gen. Li Chieh and three of his deputies offered to resign after the March 20 presidential poll.

    The MND said in a press statement that Defense Minister Tang has never received an offer of resignation from Li Chieh or his deputies, adding that Li has stuck to the principle of neutrality in politics ever since he took the reigns of the General Staff Headquarters. It added that Li has been devoted to upgrading the overall strength of the armed forces and improving its war readiness.

    The statement said that in a March 17 meeting, a Legislative Yuan Judiciary Committee resolution was discussed, and it was decided that furlough regulations would not be changed. In other words, no military personnel on leave on March 20 would be kept in barracks for any reason.

    The statement said the defense ministry regrets that newspapers would carry such a baseless report, adding that "they should have verified their stories before printing them."

    The newspaper report said Li Chieh offended Tang at the March 17 meeting by suggesting letting armed forces members engaged in war-preparedness duties on the election day cast their ballots in turns as in previous elections in light of the relatively peaceful situation across the Taiwan Strait in the lead up to the presidential election. Tang reportedly rejected the suggestion, resulting in Li's decision to resign after the election result came out.

(BY Sofia Wu)

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