Philippine coastguards charged with Taiwan fisherman murder

MANILA (AFP) - Eight Filipino coastguards have been charged with the murder of a Taiwanese fisherman who was shot dead last year sparking economic sanctions against the Philippines, authorities said on Friday.

Coastguard patrol officers opened fire last May at a Taiwanese boat sailing close to the northern Philippine coast but in waters also claimed by Taiwan, killing 65-year-old fisherman Hung Shih-cheng.

The killing sparked angry protests in Taiwan and Taipei responded with sanctions, but lifted them after the Philippine government issued an official apology.

Homicide charges were formally filed in a northern Philippine court last week, the court's legal officer Jurgents Calling told AFP.

"The judge is still studying the information filed, but if he finds probable cause, he will issue warrants of arrest," Mr Calling said.

Homicide is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in the Philippines.

Mr Andrew Lin, director of the political division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manila, welcomed the charges.

"We recognise that adequate action has been taken by the Philippine government with this development," he told AFP.

The coastguard officers had said the Taiwanese vessel was fishing illegally and they were forced to fire in self-defence as it tried to ram their patrol craft.

But prosecutor-general Claro Arellano told reporters the Filipinos' own rules of engagement did not automatically authorise the use of deadly force against a vessel deemed hostile.

During the investigation prosecutors viewed a Filipino coastguard video footage showing officers firing M-14 rifles and a mounted machine gun at the fleeing fishing boat.

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