May 10, 2006

Taiwan’s Chen makes surprise Libya visit

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian made a
surprise transit stop in Libya on his way home from Latin
America and met with family members of leader Muammar Gaddafi,
a visit likely to displease its giant neighbor China.

China, which has diplomatic ties with Tripoli, has claimed
Taiwan as its own since the Communists defeated the
Nationalists in a civil war in 1949, and views any country that
plays host to Chen as encouraging his vision of a separate

The Libyan stopover on Wednesday was the latest surprise in
Chen's overseas trip, in which transit destinations have been
kept secret to avoid interference from Beijing. Chen had
originally been scheduled to fly home via Abu Dhabi.

"President Chen met with some members of Gaddafi's family
and discussions were about setting up representative offices,
boosting ties and trade, petrochemical and infrastructure
issues," foreign ministry spokesman Michel Lu said on Thursday.

Lu decline to comment whether or not Chen met personally
with Gaddafi. Libya broke off diplomatic ties with Taiwan in

The Chinese-language Liberty Times showed pictures of Chen
meeting with one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, and
suggested the president could transit in Lebanon before
returning home.

Chen had hoped to stop in Beirut on his way to Latin
America but said the request had been denied under pressure
from Beijing.

Lu declined to comment on whether Chen would make
additional stops or when he might return to Taiwan, but
confirmed he had already left Libya.

Chen had originally hoped to transit via New York, but the
United States offered him short refueling stops in Alaska or
Hawaii, which he turned down and accused China of pressuring

Due to international pressure from China, Taiwan only has
official diplomatic ties with 26 states, mostly third world
countries in Africa and Latin America.