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Kinmen's 2 military outposts to open to tourists

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The military is set to transfer its control of two tiny islands that once served as major defensive outposts against communist China's aggression to the Kinmen County government, a move marking a further ease of cross-strait tensions.

The county government plans to open Dadan and Erdan to tourists after taking over the islands from the Kinmen Defense Command on June 30, an official said yesterday.

 Although they will be open to tourism, there is currently no plan to allow Chinese tourists to set foot on the “sensitive” islands, said Minister without Portfolio Lin Junq-tzer.

 Kinmen, formed by a group of islands just off China's southeastern coast, has been Taiwan's military stronghold against China for several decades. Its status may not have changed, but many parts of Kinmen have been demilitarized in recent years amid improving cross-strait ties.

The government originally planned to remove all troops from Dadan and Erdan after the transfer, but decided to keep a minimum military presence there after objections from one legislator.

Legislator Lin Yu-fang of the ruling Kuomintang said the two islands were the sites of rare battle victories in Taiwan's war against the communists and a complete removal of the troops would result in “strong political consequences.”

The military has not revealed the number of troops that will remain on the islands. Currently, a company of less than 200 servicemen is stationed on the islands, compared to more than 600 at the peak of cross-strait tensions.

Police and coast guards will be deployed to jointly handle security affairs with the military after the islands are transferred, the minister said, adding that surveillance cameras will also be installed on the islands to beef up security measures.

He said he will go to Kinmen early next month to inspect the progress of the preparations for transfer.

After the transfer, many of the islands' facilities will need to be improved, such as their piers, to accommodate tourists, he said.

Tourists will be able to set foot on the islands as early July 2015, but initially only specific tour groups such as those from schools will be allowed. Full access for all Taiwanese people may have to wait until 2017, Lin said.

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