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Military denies troop orders to send letters to local media

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The military yesterday denied it had ordered its troops to bombard the local media with letters to the editors in a campaign to improve its image tainted recently by a bribery scandal.

A military spokesman, Yu Chu-si, said grassroots servicemen had been simply encouraged to express their opinions in order to maintain the military's image and honor.

Local reports said the defense ministry had ordered all of its propaganda units to form “letter-writing corps” to specifically defend the military from allegations about officers buying their way up the hierarchy.

The teams would have to be comprised of well-educated personnel with at least master's degrees, and they would earn extra merits or holidays if their letters were published, the reports claimed.

“We never meant to make use of letters to editors to (clarify) investigation of any specific scams,” said the spokesman.

The ministry was quick to react to the reports after President Ma Ying-jeou on Thursday had reprimanded it for a previous delay in responding to allegations about faking the results of a military drill.

Ma in April ordered Defense Minister Chen Chao-min to head a task force to come up with a report in three months for corruption prevention after a general and a weapons dealer were indicted in an arms-purchase and money-for-promotion scandal.

The report by the task force is due to be released early next month.

Legislators from both the ruling and opposition parties criticized the ministry for attempting to white-wash its problems through a propaganda campaign.

Legislator Trong Chai of the Democratic Progressive Party said the military shouldn't be wasting time having the “letter-writing corps” tell the media that the troops were honest.

“The deadline (for the report) is coming and they should step up the investigation instead of trying to cover up the truth,” said Chai.

Legislator Lee Ching-hua urged the military to stop the dishonest cover-up and work out ways for improvements.

The Apple Daily cited a retired officer as saying that readers in Taiwan are no longer interested in military propaganda materials.

The newspaper also reported that some legislators faulted the defense ministry for spending big on unnecessary audio-visual devices amid plans to downsize the troops.

The ministry has budgeted NT$480 million for purchasing over 15,000 TVs and over 8,800 video game consoles between 2008 and 2012, the newspaper said.

The ministry said the procurement project was based on estimates made in 2006 of the needs for those five years, according to the paper.

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