U.S. carriers sent toward Taiwan before election

WASHINGTON Wed Mar 19, 2008 6:13pm EDT

The USS Kitty Hawk carrier is anchored at Malaysia's West Port in Port Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, August 28, 2007. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

The USS Kitty Hawk carrier is anchored at Malaysia's West Port in Port Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, August 28, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. aircraft carriers, including the USS Kitty Hawk, have been sent to the Taiwan region for training exercises during this weekend's Taiwanese election, a U.S. defense official said on Wednesday.

The two warships were "responsibly positioned" in the Pacific Ocean somewhere east of Taiwan and would remain in place through Saturday's presidential election and referendum on U.N. membership, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He declined to elaborate on the positions of the two ships and could identify only the Kitty Hawk by name.

China has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists fled to the island.

Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule by force if necessary.

The Kitty Hawk has approached Taiwan before previous elections to discourage any military action from China, which lies about 99 miles northwest of the island.

"We feel we are responsibly positioned at this time," the defense official told Reuters, saying the two carriers were not near enough to the island to provoke China but would be able to "respond if there's a provocative situation."

Navy officials said the Kitty Hawk left its base in Japan en route to Hawaii on Tuesday and would continue on to the U.S. mainland later for decommissioning.

(Reporting by David Morgan)

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