BEIJING -- China Friday accused Taiwan of 'murdering' 25 mainland Chinese who suffocated on a sealed fishing boat that Beijing said was towed to sea and set adrift by Taiwan authorities.
The official Xinhua news service said fishermen from the mainland coastal province of Fujian discovered a boarded-up fishing boat on July 22 that contained 25 corpses and one gravely ill passenger, who survived to tell a gruesome account of what China called an act of 'inhumane repatriation.'
The survivor, identified as Lin Licheng, reportedly told authorities the group of 26 castaways entered Taiwan illegally aboard a fishing boat in mid-July on a 'business trip,' Xinhua said.
China is technically at war with Taiwan, where the defeated Chinese Nationalist government fled following its defeat by the Communists in 1949.
On July 21, Taiwan authorities 'seized' the illegal immigrants in the northeast coastal town of Ilan, blindfolded them and forced them into two small cabins on board their fishing boat, Lin reportedly said.
The cabins, measuring a mere 32 square feet, were 'sealed by long nails and covered with timber and other heavy materials,' Xinhua said. Taiwan gunboats then towed the fishing boat to waters near the mainland and set it adrift, the report said.
By the time the boat was discovered the next day near the village of Guangyu on Pingtan island, approximately 77 miles from the Taiwan coast, all but one of the 26 passengers aboard had died from lack of oxygen.
'The mainlanders were suffocated and Lin had a narrow escape by finding a small hole in the wall of the cabin,' Xinhua said.
Over the years, mainland Chinese have occasionally defected to Taiwan by air and by sea. The Taiwanese government has generally welcomed the defectors as a propaganda gesture to embarrass the neighboring communist regime.
The most recent case of forced repatriation was carried out by the Chinese side and involved double defector Hou Dejian, a Taiwanese pop singer who defected to the mainland in 1983.
Chinese authorities shipped Hou back to his native Taiwan by fishing boat in July following the singer's calls for the release of political prisoners and a more tolerant government.