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MOFA apologizes for turning down foreign disaster relief aid

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) apologized Friday for telling its overseas representative offices to politely decline international assistance such as supplies and rescuers in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, describing it as a technical error made out of negligence.

The Foreign Ministry issued instructions Aug. 11 to all MOFA's foreign representative offices to politely decline their host governments if they should offer supplies or rescuers to help the country with disaster relief efforts in the wake of Typhoon Morakot.

"It was a technical error in that we did not make clear that it should have read `temporarily' decline international assistance.

If such negligence has caused any bad public perception, I solemnly apologize to the public on behalf of the ministry," Deputy Foreign Minister Andrew Hsia said.

"As the acting foreign minister, I will take full responsibility and accept any disciplinary action, " Hsia said. Foreign Minister Francisco H.L. Ou is out of the country attending a meeting.

Hsia also noted that neither the Presidential Office nor the Executive Yuan were aware of the telegram.

The Foreign Ministry has been lambasted by the media over the past few days for declining offers of foreign assistance in the wake of Morakot. The United States, Japan, Singapore and other countries have made donations and have expressed willingness to provide additional assistance.

However, until the previous day, the MOFA had said that while Taiwan appreciates the support and concern expressed by the international community, it had decided to hold off on requesting foreign assistance because the country is capable of handling the disaster relief work on its own.

The MOFA said in its own defense that it was waiting for the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center to clarify the needs of victims and rescuers before approaching the international community.

The central government later released a list of items that Taiwan needs from the international community for its rescue and relief operations, including specialized helicopters capable of transporting very heavy payloads, and sanitation supplies.

Noting that the list was immediately forwarded to the U.S. and Japan, both of which are most capable of providing such specialized machinery, Hsia said Australia has also offered to provide some of the listed items, with China Airlines charged with transporting them to Taiwan.

The Taipei-based Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei told CNA that the country has decided to provide water purification devices and water tank systems to make sure that the stricken typhoon victims can have access to clean water.

Quantities and details of these devices had yet to be confirmed but were expected to arrive in Taiwan later in the day, the Israeli office said.

August 14, 2009    jeffrey.chih@
Morakot slammed Taiwan, causing severe disasters nationwide, flooding villages, and stranding hundreds of people. Homeless and helpless is the only way to describe the people living in the south; worse, there're still uncounted victims remaining without clues about their lives. It is beyond imagination how the government officials just apologize in a statement, trying to level the ire and trauma of suffering Taiwanese. If a government couldn’t immediately make a correct decision to rescue people by its own at the first time disaster occurred, it should call on foreign assistance worldwide afterwards. In this incident of Typhoon Morakot, our government is condemned by all sides for the lack of rescue. It should be regarded as a "Murderer" as well.
August 15, 2009    skylarjones@
What were they thinking?

I was so happy when Ma Ying-jeou was elected President. I wanted him to enact his policies.

But what's going on here? Was President Ma expecting China to provide all the help here?
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