Taiwan firms protest over US mission dispute

TAIPEI (AFP) - Dozens of Taiwanese building workers staged a protest on Monday as part of their dispute with a contractor that has halted work on a new de facto US embassy since last month.

The US-headquartered Weston Solutions in 2009 won a US government contract worth US$54.4 million (S$67.5 million) to design and build the first phase of the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) located in the capital city's suburbs.

The AIT has represented US interests in Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

But three Taiwanese subcontractors say that since November 2011 Weston Solutions has been defaulting on payments to them. They say the arrears now total NT$473.83 million (S$19.5 million).

No Weston officials were immediately available for comment.

More than 60 people from the three companies held signs and shouted slogans like "Pay me the money due, I want to live on!" and "AIT owes us explanations!" during the demonstration at the construction site.

"At the moment the AIT is probably the sole party who can help solve the issue," Tu Chung-ren, spokesman for Wei Chuan Arch Contracting Co, one of the three subcontractors, told AFP.

"If the AIT feels it has nothing to do with this, then we might be forced to halt the project indefinitely," Tu said, adding that 160 employees of the three subcontractors have either been laid off or taken unpaid leave.

AIT spokesman Mark Zimmer said the dispute was between the contractor and subcontractors. "AIT is not directly involved, but we hope the dispute will be solved in an amicable manner." He said the entire project, including the phase two contract to be awarded to another contractor, is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

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