Ban says Taiwan's UN bid legally impossible

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 18 (Reuters) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today it had proved legally impossible for his office to accept a UN membership application from Taiwan despite careful consideration of the matter.

Ban told a news conference the issue would be discussed by UN members following efforts by Taiwan's allies to get it on the agenda of the new General Assembly annual session, which started today. Other UN officials, however, said they saw no chance of Taiwan's bid succeeding.

Taiwan, expelled from the world body in 1971 in favour of China, has made repeated efforts to get back in and this year applied for the first time under the name Taiwan instead of its formal title of Republic of China.

President Chen Shui-bian also has scheduled a referendum for next March on the UN membership drive, in a move that has caused tension with the United States as well as Beijing, which considers Taiwan a renegade province.

At issue is whether Taiwan is part of China or not. Beijing says it is and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence. UN membership could be considered a move toward independence.

Taiwan's approaches were rejected in July by Ban's office and by the Security Council, and on September 7 by the office of the outgoing General Assembly president, Haya Rashed al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

All have cited a General Assembly resolution of 1971 that expelled the ''representatives of Chiang Kai-shek'' -- the nationalist leader driven out of mainland China in 1949 by the communists -- and awarded their seat to the People's Republic.

''This has been the official position of the United Nations and has not changed since 1971,'' Ban said today.

''This matter ... was very carefully considered by the secretariat, and in light of Resolution 2758 it was not legally possible to receive the purported application for membership.'' STIRRING ANGER The self-ruled island of 23 million people that China has claimed as its own since the 1949 civil war says the resolution no longer applies to present-day Taiwan, which is still recognized by 24 countries.

The Marshall Islands, representing that group, has asked for Taiwan's application to be considered by the new General Assembly session. A General Assembly committee is expected to review the proposal tomorrow.

''I hope that, accordingly, this question will have to be discussed by the member states,'' Ban said.

UN officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected, however, the committee would not recommend that Taiwan's application be put on the Assembly's agenda.

With China holding a veto in the 15-member Security Council and overwhelming support in the 192-member General Assembly, Taiwan officials say they know the UN bid will fail but insist their 23 million people have a right to UN representation.

Analysts have suggested Chen's government wants to solidify a long-term agenda of greater independence from China by stirring anger at home. About 250,000 people demonstrated in two Taiwan cities on Saturday in support of the UN bid.

REUTERS RC BST0118

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