Taiwan beefs up patrols in waters near Philippines

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan on Sunday dispatched four coastguard and naval vessels to beef up patrols in waters near the Philippines following public outrage over the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Filipino coastguards.

"The government is determined to protect our fishermen," Cabinet spokeswoman Cheng Li-wen said in a statement as a Lafayette-class naval frigate and coastguard vessels set sail for the area where the 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman was killed on Thursday.

The move came shortly after authorities issued a strongly-worded statement late Saturday night demanding Manila apologise to Taiwan and compensate the family of the dead man.

In its statement, Taiwan also asked the Philippine authorities to bring to justice the coastguards responsible and start negotiating with Taipei on a proposed fishery agreement.

"If the Filipino government fails to respond in a positive manner within 72 hours, the hiring of Philippine workers will be frozen," presidential office spokeswoman Lee Chia-fei warned.

Mr Hung Shih-cheng, the skipper of the 15-tonne "Kuang Ta Hsin No 28", was killed during the incident, which also left the boat riddled with more than 50 bullet holes.

"This is nothing but a slaughter," prosecutor Liu Chia-kai told reporters after examining the ship.

In Manila, Abigail Valte, a spokeswoman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino, told a government radio station on Saturday that authorities had launched a "transparent and impartial investigation" into the incident.

She expressed hopes that economic ties with Taipei would not be affected and added that the coastguard crew involved in the incident had been temporarily suspended to ensure a fair probe.

Taiwan's government has come under pressure from the opposition and the media to take action, with the Philippines refusing to apologise and saying the coastguard was tackling illegal fishing.

Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said on Friday the incident took place in Philippine waters and the crew had been carrying out their duties to stop illegal fishing.

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

The victim's son, who was with his father and two other sailors on the boat when the shooting took place, has insisted they did not cross into Philippine waters.

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