DEFENSE MINISTER REAFFIRMS MILITARY'S COMMITMENT TO PROTECT FISHERMEN
Central News Agency
Taipei, June 16 (CNA) The military will continue to support the Coast Guard Administration's (CGA's) efforts to protect Taiwanese fishermen and will respond immediately to any situations requiring military backup, National Defense Minister Lee Jye said Thursday.
Lee said the Ministry of National Defense will focus its work on maintaining security on the seas and will dispatch monitoring naval frigates to operate within sight of the fishermen in the future.
Lee pointed out that the responsibility of protecting fishermen was transferred from the Navy to the CGA in 2000 and that the military is now in charge of monitoring and providing backup if necessary.
During last week's confrontations between Taiwanese fishermen and the Japanese coast guard in a disputed part of the East China Sea where the exclusive economic zones of the two countries overlap, the Navy was instructed to make the necessary preparations and dispatched two frigates to nearby waters to monitor the situation there, Lee said.
The minister made the remarks at the Legislative Yuan, where he met with speaker Wang Jin-pyng to discuss the issue of fishermen's protection.
Also at the meeting, CGA Director-General Shi Hwei-yow said the CGA will definitely protect the fishermen if they are operating within the tentative line dividing the two countries' overlapping economic zones.
If the fishermen plan to operate beyond this line, they can apply for CGA protection and escort through a fishermen's association, Shi said.
However, Shi pointed out that the CGA currently only owns 186 patrol ships, with only 13 of these being large-size vessels, which he said is hardly enough to cope with the CGA's law-enforcement missions in territorial waters extending 540,000 square kilometers.
Meanwhile, Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Ying-mao Kau pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked Japan to arrange for the 15th round of bilateral fishery talks as soon as possible, which he said hopefully can take place some time between late June and early July.
Kau said the ministry also hopes that higher level officials will be allowed to take part in the talks and that he himself will participate if necessary.
Before beginning the talks, the ministry will meet with representatives of related authorities, fishermen's associations and the legislature to gather their opinions, he said, adding that the ministry will take a firm stand to protect the rights and interests of Taiwanese fishermen.
(By Y.F. Low)
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