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By Janet David

KOLONIA, Pohnpei (December 10-20, 1998, The Island Tribune)---Two Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) students, while studying in China, were charged with illegally tapping into telephone lines to make long distance phone calls to Micronesia. This, according to Epel Ilon, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, is considered a serious offense, under Chinese law. The case has now been diplomatically settled and the students returned to their home island, Kosrae.

Lipan Lipan and Alden Seymour were both under Chinese Scholarships, which are given annually to the FSM. They were among a total of six students who were studying in China at the time. A spokesperson for the FSM Department of Justice said the two had been studying in China for about three years.

According to Matt Maradol of Foreign Affairs, the Beijing Public Security Bureau in China picked up the two students on October 14, 1998. Ilon said Foreign Affairs, after learning about the case through the Papua New Guinea Embassy in China, contacted the Chinese Embassy in Kolonia, Pohnpei. Through the Chinese Embassy, the FSM was able to convince the Chinese Foreign Ministry to settle the case "considering the good relationship" between the two governments " We informed the parents that the students should be brought home, and to prepare to pay for the phone charges," said Ilon. He claimed authorities in China were reluctant to release the two students at first, because it would "set a bad precedence for criminals." The students were eventually released on November 13, 1998.

In a letter to Maradol, Li Jianfeng of the Chinese Embassy stated, "taking into consideration the friendly relations between our two countries, the Chinese Government decides not to sue the two students, nor impose any fine on them, only requests them to pay the due charges for the international phone calls they made."

Lipan and Seymour incurred more than $2,000 in international phone calls. Their families paid the telephone bills and their return plane tickets, before they left China on November 23, 1998.

Li clarified that the students were not arrested, but were only detained for investigation. Li hopes that the educational exchanges between the two countries will continue and will not be affected in any way by the case. He said the two governments worked closely on the case, and believed that it will have a positive effect on the further development of friendly relations between the two countries.

Ilon said that although the Chinese Government had assured him that this case will not affect future students to China, the FSM Government does not condone this kind of practice. "We want our students to be mindful of their obligations," said Ilon. He believes students should be ambassadors to other countries. "Their good performance in a foreign country will reflect well on their government." Foreign Affairs will be paying closer attention to orienting their students before going overseas, Ilon added.

The Department of Justice spokesperson said the two students appeared to be healthy, both physically and mentally. "They claimed they were treated very well in detention." The two students knew that what they did was wrong, said the spokesperson. "They said everyone else was doing it, so they thought they could do it, too, but they ended up owing too much."

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