Taiwan: indigenous demand land restitution

Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has issued a call to her fellow lawmakers to act on restitution of traditional lands to the country's aboriginal peoples. Her comments came at a press conference Nov. 24 where she was joined by Pastor Kavas, a member of the Bunun people, who said he had been harassed by security forces as he attempted to guide a small group of scholars into a forested area usurped from the Bunun. Kavas said that while guiding National Taitung University professor Liu Chiung-shi and his assistants through the forest near Jiaming Lake in Taitung county, they were stopped by a dozen police officers, who arrested the academics, citing a breach of "national security." Ironically, despite having been designated a restricted area by the Ministry of National Defense in 1993, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, Kavas said. He called restriction of Bunun access to the area "beyond belief."

Liu, also speaking at the press conference, said that Aborigines' right to their traditional territories is a basic human right stipulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples Basic Act. He and the three other detained in the incident refused to appear at the Taitung District Court in protest against what they called improper law enforcement.

Tien called on all the presidential candidates in Taiwan's upcoming elections to take a stance on aboriginal land rights. (Taipei Times, Nov. 25)

Taiwan's minister for aboriginal peoples, Lin Chiang-yi, also known as Mayaw Dongi, has long been pushing legislation that restore usurped lands and recognize the local autonomy of indigenous communities. The bill proposes awarding 45% of Taiwan's land to the 2% of Taiwanese who belong to the island's 16 indigenous groups. But Mayaw recently said he fears that the bill will not get attention between elections in January and the seating of a new government in May. (VOA, Nov. 26)