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International Relations

Philippines admits shooting of Taiwanese fisherman

The Philippines has admitted that its coastguard fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing one crew member on board. Manila initially denied responsibility for the incident, which has sparked outrage in Taiwan.

Philippine officials on Friday admitted that the country's coastguard had opened fire on the vessel, but refused to issue an apology for the death of the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman.

Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said coastguard personnel had been carrying out their task of stopping illegal fishing. He said the incident took place in the Balintang channel, just north of the island of Luzon, within Philippine territorial waters.

"If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology," Balilo told reporters.

Bailo said the coastguard had tried to approach a pair of fishing boats and had only opened fire when the smaller of the two - carrying three Taiwanese and one Indonesian - tried to ram the Philippine boat.

"They fired at the machinery to disable it. They were able to disable the vessel although they were not aware at the time that somebody had been hit," Bailo said, adding that the 30-meter (100 foot) coastguard vessel left the scene when a "big white ship" approached. "Our people felt threatened," he said.

Unfortunate, or barbaric?

Despite the lack of an apology, Asis Perez (pictured), director of the Philippines' Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, said steps would be taken to prevent such a situation happening in future. "This incident is very unfortunate, and efforts will be instituted to prevent similar occurrences. The government will increase our visibility in the area to prevent future incursion of our waters," Perez told reporters.

Coastguard chief Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena said an investigation into the incident was being launched. The Philippines had initially denied involvement in the shooting.

In Taipei, Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lin blamed the Philippine coast guard for opening fire.

"We strongly condemn the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine fishery department," Lin said. "We urge the Philippine government to open a full investigation on this case and send their apology to Taiwan's government."

The shooting provoked irate headlines in the Taiwanese media, the Taipei-based China Times newspaper describing it as "barbaric."

Tensions have been high recently over the nearby South China Sea. China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all having rival claims to parts of the sea.

rc/jm (AFP, AP)