Wed, Jul 30, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Cabinet to act tough, talk soft to Philippines

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

In response to demands that it take action to resolve fishing disputes with the Philippines, the Cabinet has decided to take a two-pronged approach of increasing naval patrols in the disputed waters and negotiating a fishing treaty.

"To show the government's determination to safeguard our territorial waters, the navy will assist the Coast Guard Administration in strengthening its patrols in southern territorial waters to twice a week, especially in the areas overlapping with the Philippines," Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said yesterday afternoon.

The Council of Agriculture will also send delegates to the Philippines to discuss the possibility of signing bilateral fishing cooperation treaties and establishing a mechanism to handle future fishing disputes.

To check on the condition of the 11 fishermen still being held in the Philippines, Lin said, Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials will visit them and offer any necessary assistance.

The Council of Agriculture will also arrange for their families to travel to the Philippines to visit their loved ones.

The conclusions were reached yesterday at a closed-door meeting presided over by Minister without Portfolio Hsu Chih-hsiung (許志雄), who had been instructed by Premier Yu Shyi-kun to solicit opinions from government agencies.

Yu earlier telephoned Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明) to express his concern over the matter.

Eight Taiwanese fishing boats and 45 fishermen had been held by the Philippines since last year. Six of the fishing boats and 34 fishermen have managed to escape from detention during the past week.

In a bid to win the release of the fishermen, the agriculture council and foreign ministry formed a task force in May.

The task force has offered those facing litigation a no-interest loan of up to NT$380,000 per boat.

To take care of the families of the detained fishermen, the task force has also been giving NT$3,000 a month to each of them and arranging for their families to visit.

However, Lin stressed that the government would punish any fishermen who violate domestic laws.

He also dismissed reports that Yu recently met secretly with a Philippine envoy to discuss the fishing disputes and detained fishermen.

"The premier has not received any foreign guests from the Philippines recently nor discussed any topic regarding fishing disputes," he said.

To prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, Lin called on local fishermen to be wary of people trying to sell them forged permits to fish in waters around the Philippines.

"The Philippines banned all kinds of cooperative fishing in its territorial waters in 1998 when it amended its fishing laws," Lin said.

Lin said that the government would now focus on negotiating fishing rights with the Philippines, as discussions with Japan have have already made significant progress over the past few months.

"We're glad that both sides have agreed during the last round of negotiations that our fishing boats and their patrol vessels will try to avoid direct confrontation with each other in the overlapping territorial waters," he said of the talks with Japan.

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