Taiwan, Philippines swap shooting probe investigators following fatal shooting of Taiwanese fisherman

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan and the Philippines swapped teams of investigators on Monday following weeks of acrimony over the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman.

A team of eight Philippine officials including experts from the National Bureau of Investigation flew to the island and were promptly whisked away upon arrival at Taoyuan airport in the north. A Taiwanese team of experts also flew to the Philippines.

Both teams will review how 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng was shot dead by the Philippine coast guard on May 9, an incident which has sharply raised tensions between Manila and Taipei and prompted economic sanctions by Taiwan.

"The (Philippine) visitors will have a look at the autopsy report on Hung Shih-cheng this afternoon," a spokesman for Taiwan's justice ministry said.

Before leaving on Friday, the Filipino team will also inspect evidence from local prosecutors, visit the fishing boat, review voyage data records onboard the vessel and inspect ballistic evidence, the spokesman said.

Taiwan said its team in the Philippines would visit the coast guard vessel, inspect the guns used to fire on the vessel and review video footage.

A spokesman for the Philippines' National Bureau of Investigation confirmed the Taiwanese team had arrived but would not comment on what they were doing or how long they would stay.

The Philippines has claimed that the fishing boat intruded into its waters and that coast guards were forced to open fire when it tried to ram their vessel.

The Taiwanese authorities have released the boat's voyage data record and insist that the ship was fishing within its exclusive economic zone when the shooting took place.

The zones claimed by the two sides overlap in some areas.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has termed the killing "cold-blooded murder" based on an initial inquiry report by Taiwan, which showed that the fishing ship was studded with more than 50 bullet holes and displayed no sign of having rammed the coastguard vessel.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has personally apologised for the incident but Taiwan has rejected his apology and introduced sanctions against the Philippines.

The measures include a ban on the hiring of new workers, recalling its envoy and staging a naval drill in waters off the northern Philippines.

Taipei has repeatedly pressed Manila to issue a formal government apology, to compensate the fisherman's family and to apprehend the killer.

Philippine officials say the issue of a formal apology is complicated by the fact that Manila officially recognises Beijing over Taipei.