TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) _ The government today announced that hundreds of Taiwanese soldiers stranded on mainland China in the 1949 civil war can return home.

''The new policy is based on humanitarian considerations and a response to calls from the public,'' Interior Minister Hsu Shui-teh said.

Applications for permanent residency will be accepted from the stranded soldiers and their families beginning March 31, he said.

The new policy marks the latest relaxation of the Nationalist government ban on travel between China and Taiwan.

The Nationalists, who fled to this island after losing the civil war, had sent 10,000 Taiwanese to the Chinese mainland to help fight the communists.

Taiwan authorities believe about 1,400 of the soldiers are living in China. Hsu said the Defense Ministry has verified names of 455 former Nationalist soldiers eligible to return to the island.

Under the new policy, stranded Taiwanese soldiers, their spouses and children under age 18 can apply to live in Taiwan, Hsu said. However, stranded soldiers who joined the Chinese Communist Party will have to publicly renounce their membership by placing an advertisement in a newspaper, he said.