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Ban on individual mainland tourists to Taiwan to be lifted by June

TAIPEI, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Tourists from selected cities in the Chinese mainland will be able to travel across the Taiwan Strait as individuals by the end of June, said a senior mainland negotiator Wednesday.

The mainland-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) and its Taiwan counterpart Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) have reached a common understanding on this issue, said Zheng Lizhong, ARATS vice president, at a press conference here.

Yet tourism associations on both sides still need time to finalize the technical details and exchange the documents before the policy officially takes effect, Zheng said.

He did not provide the exact date when the policy would take effect but said it would be "very soon" and within this month.

The policy will be applied first on residents from several pilot cities in the mainland, though Zheng did not name the cities. Since July 2008, mainland tourists have been allowed to travel to the island but only in tour packages.

The daily number of mainland tourists to Taiwan increased from 300 people in 2008 to 3,200 in 2010.

The policy to let in individual tourists is expected to attract more high-end tourists, benefit small local business and tourist sites that are so far out of regular sightseeing routes by travel agencies.

Traveling as an individual tourist will also help mainland people gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan, said Lee Li-chen, an official with Taiwan's mainland affairs department.

Besides the issue of individual travelers, the two sides agreed to improve the supervision over tourism business and increase efforts to protect tourists' safety.

The Taiwan side has agreed to close the security loopholes of tourist sites, transportation facilities and vehicles, Zheng said.

In late April, a small train overturned in Taiwan's Ali Mountain area, killing five tourists from the mainland and seriously injuring at least 50 passengers.

At Wednesday's meeting, negotiators from the two sides reviewed the implementation of cross-Strait agreements and addressed challenges related to cross-Strait tourism, such as air service, quarantine cooperation on farm produce, food security, the joint effort to combat crimes, and judicial cooperation.

The two sides have agreed to increase the cross-Strait direct flights from 370 weekly to 550 and add at least two new terminals, Tainan in Taiwan, and Yancheng of east China's Jiangsu Province, according to a statement from the SEF.

The aviation associations of the two sides will handle the technical arrangements and the policy will take effect "as soon as possible," said Kao Koong-lian, SEF vice chairman, at a press conference after the meeting.

The mainland also agreed to send back several Taiwan residents, who were convicted of crimes in the mainland but suffered serious illness promptly, he said.

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