Protesters Claiming to be Tibetans in Taiwan Hunger Strike

More than 30 immigrants claiming to be ethnic Tibetans started a 50-hour hunger strike in Taiwan Thursday in a bid to obtain resident status on the island, officials and protesters said.

Taiwan is obliged by law to let them stay if they are indeed Tibetans, but officials told AFP they did not believe their claims about their ethnic origins to be true.

The hunger strikers set up camp in downtown Taipei outside the Cabinet-level Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, but an official there said he suspected the protesters were Indians and Nepalis with no links to Tibet.

The government allowed them to stay out of humanitarian concerns as long as they could prove they were Tibetan.

"Some of them are ignorant about even the most basic facts about Tibet and their exiled leader the Dalai Lama. We have good reasons to believe they're not Tibetans at all," said Chien Shih-yin, the commission's spokesman.

In a review of their identities, the commission confirmed the status of 78 people, but found the rest questionable as some of them did not know how to speak Tibetan or had no idea of what a khata - a traditional Tibetan offering scarf - was, commission officials said.

Information for this report was provided by DPA and AFP.