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Wednesday, October 28, 1998 Published at 10:47 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

China hijack pilot on hunger strike

A pilot who hijacked his own plane and diverted it to Taiwan has started a hunger strike after learning he will be sent back to mainland China at the end of his sentence.

Correspondent Jill McGivering: First hijacking for four years is politically embarrassing
Yuan Bin, and his wife, Xu Mei, who is also under arrest, are said to be severely depressed.

The Beijing Government has called for the immediate repatriation of Mr Yuan, but Taiwan insists his case will be handled under local law.

[ image: Pilot Yuan Bin now faces prosecution and prison]
Pilot Yuan Bin now faces prosecution and prison
However, the couple will be sent back after serving any sentence if convicted.

Mr Yuan, an Air China pilot, diverted his plane - a Boeing 737 - to Taipei on Wednesday on a flight from Beijing to Kunming in southwest China.

But it is not yet clear whether he will be charged with hijacking, or a lesser offence on the grounds he did not use violence.

The airliner has now been sent back to the mainland with all 95 passengers and most of the crew.

'Pilot faces long sentence'

[ image: Mr Yuan complained of unfair treatment]
Mr Yuan complained of unfair treatment
On Thursday China's State Council demanded the repatriation of Mr Yuan, 29, and all other mainland hijackers imprisoned by Taiwan "as soon as possible".

But Taipei immediately rebuffed the call.

Liu Teh-chen, chief prosecutor in Taoyuan county, home of Taipei's airport, said: "It's highly unlikely that [they] will be sent back before serving out their sentences."

Mr Liu said he was shocked by the couple's naÔvete.

"They must not have known the seriousness of hijacking in Taiwan. If they had known, I don't think they would have done something that would ruin their future.

"They are facing long prison terms and then they will be repatriated. That is the law.''

Taiwan's Interior Minister Huang Chu-wen said preliminary investigations showed Mr Yuan flew to Taiwan because he was unhappy with the airline and his job.

"No political motives were behind the hijacking," he said.

Crackdown on hijackers

This is the first case of a Chinese aircraft being diverted to Taiwan in more than three years - although there were two foiled attempts last year.

Correspondent Jill McGivering: Taiwan has been giving tough sentences to hijackers
Until the late 1980s the Taiwan Government rewarded hijackers for defecting from mainland China.

But since then it has adopted a tough policy of sending hijackers back to the mainland after they have served prison terms locally.

Two suspected hijackers were sent back to mainland China last year after serving prison terms.

Fourteen other hijackers currently in Taiwanese jails will also be repatriated on release.

Diplomatic progress

BBC Correspondent Jill McGivering says both sides seem eager to resolve this incident smoothly for fear of jeopardising recent diplomatic progress.

Taiwan split from the mainland government in 1949 after the civil war and the creation of the People's Republic of China under communist leader Mao Zedong.

Beijing regards the island as a breakaway province which must be reunited with the mainland, although it would be allowed to retain its capitalist economy.

Last week, a senior Taiwanese envoy, Koo Chen-Fu, held talks in Beijing with Chinese President Jiang Zemin - the highest level official contact between the two sides for nearly 50 years.

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