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Taiwan set to disband council on unification

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TAIPEI, Feb 27 (Reuters) Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is scheduled to meet his national security advisers later today to scrap a council advising on eventual unification with China, in a move Beijing considered a ''dangerous provocation''.

Chen, keen to shake off Beijing's claim of sovereignty over the island, said last week the National Unification Council and 15-year-old guidelines on unification were ''absurd products of an absurd era'' and should be scrapped.

China and Taiwan split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 when the defeated Nationalists fled into exile on the island. China insists on eventual reunification and has vowed to attack Taiwan if it formally declares statehood.

''President Chen will hold a high-level national security meeting at 3 pm to discuss issues concerning the National Unification Council,'' said an official at the presidential office, who declined to be identified.

Asked if Chen would move to disband the council after the meeting, he said: ''The president has already made his position clear.'' Local media had expected Chen to make the announcement on Tuesday, the island's Peace Memorial Day. The official declined to say why Chen had changed his mind.

Chen's latest move to scrap the unification council has infuriated Beijing and alarmed Washington, which has warned both sides not to rock the boat in what is potentially one of the Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 and considers the mainland as China's sole legitimate government the ''one-China'' policy but it is also obliged by law to help Taiwan defend itself.

Local newspapers said Chen would not use the word ''abolish'' in a bid to reassure Washington that the island had no intention of unilaterally altering the status quo.

The China Times said Chen was likely to ''freeze'' or ''suspend'' the council, while the United Daily News said Chen would declare that it had ''ceased to apply''.

Although the council, set up in 1990 under the previous Nationalist government, has been dormant since Chen took office in 2000, the president appears to be breaking vows not to push for formal independence, which included not dissolving the council and the guidelines.

REUTERS CH HS0847

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