Cambodia deported 25 Taiwanese nationals wanted on fraud charges to China Friday, a police officer said, despite vehement opposition from Taipei which wanted the suspects returned to Taiwan.

Taipei accuses Beijing of “abducting” its citizens from countries that do not recognise the island’s government — such as close China ally Cambodia.

“The Chinese plane just took off from the Phnom Penh airport with the suspects,” Cambodian immigration officer Uk Heisela told AFP.

The 25 Taiwanese suspects were joined by 14 Chinese nationals, all of whom were recently arrested for allegedly running a telephone fraud targeting victims on the mainland.

“Chinese police came with the plane. Each suspect was escorted by two Chinese police,” said the officer, adding that a total of 90 Chinese officers arrived to oversee the hand-off.

Taiwan insists citizens deported from third countries should be returned to the island and not to mainland China.

Taiwan has been self-ruling since the end of a civil war in 1949 but Beijing still sees it as a part of its territory waiting to be reunified.

The island has never formally declared independence.

Cambodia, one of Beijing’s closest allies in Southeast Asia, refuses to differentiate between China and Taiwan, simply referring to nationals from the latter as “island Chinese”.

In April Malaysia and Kenya sparked uproar in Taipei when they returned Taiwanese nationals accused of crimes to mainland China.

Observers saw the deportation cases as Beijing’s effort to pressure the new Taiwanese government that took office in May.

China does not trust the traditionally pro-independence ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Taiwan’s new president Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly pledged to maintain the “status quo”, but she also has not bowed to pressure to accept Beijing’s definition of cross-strait relations.

agence france presse

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