Taiwan suggests SARS a China warfare plot

Tue Oct 7, 2008 3:07am EDT
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By Ralph Jennings

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan legislators wearing surgical masks and displaying banners with a skull and crossbones took over parliament's floor Tuesday after the island's security chief accused China of starting the global SARS epidemic six years ago as part of a biological warfare campaign.

Taiwan National Security Bureau Director-General Tsai Chao-ming told a legislative committee Monday that sources in China suspected biological warfare, but that conclusive evidence had not surfaced.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome originated in southern China in 2002 and went on to kill hundreds of people around the world -- including about 350 in China -- bringing Asian tourism and air industries almost to a halt.

An initial cover-up of the epidemic led to the sacking of Beijing's mayor and the health minister -- and to scores of conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus.

"In the 2003 SARS period, there were deaths and injuries, and in addition China hid the patient count, causing panic in people's hearts," the security bureau said in a statement.

"At that time insider information indicated that SARS was a biological weapon."

Tsai told the committee that SARS had "become a biological warfare formula" in China and that the bureau would "continue to monitor the situation," local media said Tuesday, splashing the story across TV screens and front pages.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.   Continued...

<p>A passenger wears a mask as he walks to a subway station in Taipei, June 23, 2003. REUTERS/Richard Chung</p>