China is holding a number of Taiwanese on suspicion of fraud, officials said after Taipei accused Beijing of “abducting” its citizens from Kenya and forcibly returning them to the Chinese mainland.

Taipei said this week that Beijing had “illegally” pressured authorities in Nairobi to deport eight of its citizens to the mainland after they had been cleared of fraud charges in Kenya, adding that a total of 37 other Taiwanese were also facing return.

The detained Taiwanese at a Kenyan court earlier. screenshot.

The head of China‘s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) informed Taipei about “a group of Taiwanese residents who are criminal suspects thought to have carried out electronic fraud and who have been detained by our public security agency”, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Tuesday.

“Taiwanese suspected fraudsters are thought to have created a base overseas to defraud mainland people with increasing frequency… these criminals must be brought to justice,” he added in the Xinhua report, which was posted on TAO’s own website.

It did not specify the number or identity of those held, or make specific reference to Kenya or to any deportation.

China considers Taiwan a province of its own, which it will one day unify by force if necessary, even though the territory has ruled itself since 1949 following a civil war split.

Relations between the two have often been tense. Political and trade ties grew in the last decade under the leadership of the China-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), but the landslide election victory of independence-leaning Tsai Ying-wen in January’s presidential poll raised fears that Beijing will take a more assertive stance.

China‘s President Xi Jinping met with Tsai’s KMT predecessor Ma Ying-jeou last year for the first summit between the two sides since their 1949 split.

The meeting produced little of substance beyond the announcement of a telephone hotline between Beijing and Taipei. Xinhua said the hotline had been used to discuss the detained fraud suspects.

Taiwan said Wednesday that it had filed a suit against several top officials in Kenya for ignoring the court decision that cleared some of the suspects in the cyber scam case.

The officials “allowed Kenyan police to disrespect a court ruling, forcefully detaining our citizens for over 24 hours and illegally cooperating with mainland personnel to deport them to China,” Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a written report to parliament.

Taiwanese authorities hoped to send a delegation of senior officials to China within two or three days to discuss the matter, said Andrew Hsia, head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council.

China resumed ties with former Taiwan ally Gambia last month, ending an unofficial diplomatic truce between the two sides. The African nation previously had relations with Taiwan.

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