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President begins tour to African allies, Honduras

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- President Ma Ying-jeou departed Taiwan yesterday to begin his eight-day diplomatic tour that will take him to African allies Burkina Faso and Sao Tome and Principe, as well as to attend the inauguration ceremony of the Honduran president-elect.

The latest trip marks Ma's ninth state visit to the R.O.C.'s diplomatic allies since he took office as president in 2008.

The island nation of Sao Tome and Principe is the only one of the nation's 22 diplomatic allies that Ma has not yet visited during his more than five-year tenure as the Republic of China's president.

Ma planned to visit Sao Tome and Principe during a previous trip to Africa in April 2012 but was unable to do so because Sao Tome and Principe President Manuel Pinto da Costa was unavailable to meet him at the time.

When Sao Tome Premier Gabriel da Costa visited Taiwan last November, he presented a letter from Pinto da Costa to Ma inviting him to visit the African country.

After visiting Sao Tome and Principe, Ma is scheduled to visit Burkina Faso, another of Taiwan's African diplomatic allies, before traveling to Honduras to attend the inauguration ceremony of Honduran president-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez on Jan. 27.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said yesterday the president is also scheduled to meet with Taiwanese expatriates in Honduras during his stay in the Central American country.

According to MOFA, the trip aims to consolidate Taiwan's ties with these diplomatic allies, adding that it will also be an opportunity for the president to gain first-hand understanding of the progress of Taiwan's cooperative projects with its allies.

The delegation members include Foreign Minister David Lin (林永樂), other government officials, lawmakers and representatives from the business and academic communities, according to MOFA.

MOFA, however, would not disclose the transit and refueling stops for the delegation.

A source familiar with the tour said yesterday that the president's charter flight is scheduled to make a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany during his trip to Africa.

On his way back, Ma will make another transit stop in Los Angeles before heading back to Taipei, according to the source.

Meanwhile, MOFA spokeswoman Anna Kao (高安) yesterday rejected a local media report that Ma's latest state visit is another case of checkbook diplomacy.

Kao yesterday said that every diplomatic project is conducted only after transparent evaluation of the potential benefits to local people.

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