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Former soldier raises war awareness by touring Taiwan on foot

By Ann Wang and Minh Nguyen

KEELUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) - Dressed in camouflage and holding a plastic rifle, Tsai Tsung-lin has been tramping around Taiwan on foot for more than a month with one message to his compatriots: be prepared for war.

The 22-year-old former soldier, discharged from the army in July, hopes his journey can help increase civil defence awareness and unite the people of Taiwan amid tensions with China.

China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has stepped up military activity to try to force democratically governed Taiwan to accept Beijing's sovereignty, despite strong objections from the government in Taipei.

Last week, China again conducted drills near the island, this time in protest against Vice President William Lai's brief transits in the United States on the way to and from Paraguay.

"We know that the situation won't be good if this (constant threats from China) continues. I want people to be prepared, prepare for war with a goal," Tsai told Reuters in the northern port city of Keelung, after walking more than 900 kilometres (560 miles) around Taiwan.

"Everyone should know who the enemy is," he added.

Tsai carries a large Taiwan flag sticking on his backpack and a yellow sign reading, "Going around the island raising people's awareness to oppose the enemy".

Tsai, whose journey has been widely followed on social media in Taiwan, said he been warmly welcomed wherever he goes, with people offering him free food and drink, and occasionally a debate on tensions with China.

"He is a role model for young people in the country. I think he is great," said Huang, a vendor who asked to be identified only by her last name, after offering Tsai a cold dessert to beat the scorching heat.

Tsai said that he has no idea how long he will stay on the road, but that he won't stop until his message is delivered all across Taiwan.

"This is not a holiday, this is self-torture. It is very tough," he said.

(Reporting by Ann Wang and Minh Nguyen; Writing by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)