Taiwan took the first step Thursday in explaining the Feb. 28, 1947, massacre in which thousands of native Taiwanese and mainland Chinese were killed during a military crackdown.

The violent suppression took place a scant 18 months after Taiwan gained independence from the Japanese and has been a stumbling block in the effort to improve relations between native Taiwanese and the Kuomingtang-dominated government transplanted from the mainland over 40 years ago."The Feb. 28 incident was not the result of any divisions between the native Taiwanese population and the newly arrived mainlanders," said presidential political adviser Wang Yu-yun. "The massacre was the result of faulty government under then chief governmental administrator General Chen Yi."

Unofficial records of the incident say it was touched off by an attempt by government inspectors to bring in a woman for smuggling cigarettes. A passer-by who tried to intervene was shot and killed by police. Residents, already angry about the government of General Chen Yi, began to protest, and troops were brought in from the mainland to quell the disturbance.

Thousands were killed, but there never has been an official count of the victims of the massacre.

Political activist Dr. Chen Yong-xing, who has led a five-year campaign to demand the government formally address the Feb. 28 massacre, demanded a formal apology and compensation to the families of the victims.

A memorial and designation of Feb. 28 as a national day of remembrance was also on his list of demands.

Civilian organizations across the island have been holding memorial ceremonies for the victims. The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan held a memorial Mass earlier.