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Government gunning for 'high-risk' guesthouses in Qingjing (update)

2013/12/05 21:38:49

Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan.

Taipei, Dec. 5 (CNA) Only four of the 134 inns and guesthouses in Qingjing are operating legally, the interior ministry said Thursday, vowing to close down any unlicensed lodgings in disaster-prone areas of the popular mountain resort destination in central Taiwan.

There will be "no room for negotiation" over the dismantling of illegal guesthouses in areas of Qingjing with a high risk of disasters as a result of earthquakes and torrential rain, Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan said at a press conference.

The ministry has identified nearly half of the mountainous 498-hectare scenic area as "high-risk" in a push to reduce overdevelopment, following an increase in public awareness spurred by the hit documentary "Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above."

Earlier in the day, Lee told reporters his ministry will disclose a list of illegal guesthouses and inns in Qingjing within two weeks and announce the ministry's preliminary actions and follow-up measures.

The interior ministry is apparently working on a "nested model" that layers natural disaster threats in the area to determine which places are at highest risk.

Guesthouses in "less dangerous" areas will have a chance to receive government guidance in conducting low-impact land development. Conditions will be set which, if followed, will allow illegal businesses to turn legitimate.

Prosecutors in Nantou County, where Qingjing is located, have also opened investigations into 80 businesses on suspicion of occupying state-owned land or violating the Soil and Water Conservation Act and the Slope Land Conservation and Utilization Act.

Released on Nov. 1, Golden Horse-winning documentary "Beyond Beauty" has stirred up public discussion on environmental issues with its hard-hitting images of overdevelopment, factory pollution and illegal mining of sand and gravel.

But the film has also drawn backlash from some who fear their interests are being hurt. Qingjing guesthouse owners have reportedly asked the government not to "mislead" the public based on the documentary.

"Beyond Beauty" director Chi Po-lin said that his film aims to remind people of environmental hazards "out of good will" and that it is up to the government to take action.

"It is not worth losing what's most important to us just to make money," he said, adding that the public cannot pretend that these environmental problems do not exist.

(By Christie Chen and Hsieh Chia-chen)