Taiwan to pull out troops from islets near China: Report

TAIPEI - Taiwan is set to withdraw troops from two islets near the Chinese mainland next year and turn the former battleground into a tourist attraction amid warming ties, reports said on Friday.

Nearly 200 soldiers currently stationed in the Tatan and Ertan islets, which form part of the Taiwan-controlled Kinmen Island group off south-east China's Xiamen city, will be withdrawn from May 2014, said United Evening News, citing the defence authorities.

The Defence Ministry will relinquish control of the islets to the Kinmen county government, while the police and the coast guard are expected to each send 20 officers to the islets from June, the report said.

The two islets, which together have an area of little more than one square kilometre, are about 4km from Xiamen at the nearest point.

Kinmen county chief Lee Wuo-shih has said he is confident that reminders of a fierce 1950 battle on the two fortified islets would lure visitors from both Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.

According to Taiwan's military authorities, a 300-strong Taiwanese garrison wiped out more than 700 Chinese troops trying to land on the fortified frontline islets following an intensive artillery bombardment in July of that year.

The battle was part of the Chinese communists' attempts to invade Taiwan, where troops led by Chiang Kai-shek took refuge after being driven from the mainland at the end of a civil war in 1949.

Eight years later, the Chinese army fired more than 470,000 shells on Kinmen and other nearby islets in a 44-day bombardment beginning on August 23, killing 618 servicemen and civilians and injuring more than 2,600.

As late as the 1970s China was still bombarding the islands, although by then the shells were stuffed with propaganda leaflets.

Tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased in recent years since Mr Ma Ying-jeou became Taiwan's president in 2008 on a Beijing-friendly platform. He was re-elected last year.

Defence officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.