TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Armed Kenyan guards used tear gas to dislodge a group of Taiwanese citizens from a detention center and force them to board a flight to China, a top Taiwanese diplomat said Tuesday, amid a complicated diplomatic tussle that threatens to cause further rifts between Taipei and Beijing. A Kenyan government official denied that tear gas was used.
Director General of the Foreign Ministry's Department of West Asian and African Affairs Antonio Chen told reporters that 22 Taiwanese had boarded the flight voluntarily, but that 15 others refused to do so.
"So, Kenyan police tried to break through the wall and launched tear gas in attempting to pull them out by force," Chen said.
Kenyan Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said tear gas had not been used. "They are exaggerating this issue. They were resisting to be deported," he said.
"When you are being deported, it's not a request, and of course police will use reasonable force when you refuse to comply. That's all we did," he added.
Chen said Taiwan was considering suing the Kenyan police over the incident, although Taiwanese diplomats have so far been unsuccessful in using legal means to stop the deportations.
The confrontation began Monday when eight Taiwanese were flown from Nairobi, Kenya's capital, to Beijing after Kenyan authorities dropped fraud charges against them that were originally brought in late 2014.
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry and the Cabinet agency responsible for contacts with China have lodged complaints with Beijing and demanded that the eight be sent home. Taiwanese authorities said the deportations violated a tacit agreement between the sides not to interfere in the affairs of their citizens while abroad.
China considers Taiwan Chinese territory and says that only it can represent the island in international society, although it has softened its stance in recent years in order to avoid further alienating residents of the self-governing island. Diplomatically isolated Taiwan has no formal ties with Kenya.
The Nairobi incident could be an indication that Beijing is toughening its attitude again ahead of the May 20 inauguration of Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to agree to China's demand that she recognize Taiwan and mainland China as parts of a single Chinese nation.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang declined to comment on specifics of the case, but reiterated that China requires other countries to embrace the "one-China policy" before it establishes bilateral relations.
"We think highly of the long-standing position of Kenyan government in sticking to the one-China policy," Lu said.
The detention center in Beijing believed to be holding the Taiwanese nationals declined to verify the information on Tuesday, and the spokesman's office for the city's police department did not immediately respond to faxed questions about the issue. Taiwan's Central News Agency cited unidentified Chinese officials saying the eight were being investigated for possible crimes committed in China before they departed for Kenya.
China has close ties with Kenya, extending generous financial assistance to the East African nation.
Associated Press writer Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.