TAIPEI/MANILA - Taiwan and the Philippine agreed Friday to jointly probe an incident the previous day in which Philippine Coast Guard personnel shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters, according to Taiwan's Foreign Minister David Lin.
Lin said in a press conference that Taipei and Manila have agreed to jointly investigate the incident, which occurred Thursday morning in waters claimed by both sides as part of their 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Earlier, Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, the Philippine Coast Guard commandant, told a press conference in Manila that his men fired in "self-defense" at a Taiwanese vessel caught "poaching" in the Philippines' EEZ after it tried to ram their patrol boat.
Meanwhile, de facto Philippine ambassador to Taiwan Antonio Basilio expressed his government's "sincerest condolences and apology" to the family of the slain fisherman, identified as 65-year-old Hung Shih-cheng, and vowed an investigation.
Despite Manila's explanation and condolences, however, Lin said Taipei cannot accept the Philippine Coast Guard's "improper action" of firing at an unarmed fishing boat under any circumstances.
He demanded an official apology, compensation and the arrest of those responsible for the incident, which occurred 164 nautical miles off Taiwan's southeastern coast.
Isorena said the incident occurred after the patrol boat, manned by more than 10 coast guardsmen and two fisheries bureau personnel, spotted two Taiwanese vessels "fishing illegally" in an area 43 nautical miles east of the Balintang Islands in the northern Philippines.
He said that when coast guardsmen tried to board one of the Taiwanese vessels, the Taiwanese vessel "repeatedly tried to ram our patrol craft, forcing our men to fire warning shots."
But instead of stopping, the Taiwanese vessel continued its attempt to ram the patrol craft and "forced" the coast guard to fire more shots at its engine room in an attempt to disable the vessel, he said.
Isorena said his men used a .30 caliber light machinegun and M-16 and M-14 assault rifles, "but we don't know how many rounds were fired."
"This incident is very unfortunate and efforts will be instituted to prevent similar occurrences," he said, vowing to increase visibility of patrol boats in the area to prevent foreign fishing vessels from intruding into Philippine-claimed waters.
"We sympathize with the family of the fisherman who died and we assure them of a transparent and impartial investigation," he said.
Basilio said that should the joint investigation show "that there is a violation of international law and practice as well as our domestic law, we will let the law take its course so the justice will be served."
In light of the incident, Lin urged the Philippines to ink a fisheries agreement with Taiwan to avoid future problems.
Touting the Japan-Taiwan fisheries pact which came into force on Friday, Lin said he hopes it would serve as a model for negotiating other fishing pacts with neighboring countries such as the Philippines.
The pact with Japan allows Taiwanese fishing boats to operate in an area of the East China Sea near the disputed Senkaku Islands that both Japan and Taiwan claim as part of their 200-nautical-mile EEZ.
Taipei has been trying to get Manila to come to the negotiating table, but so far to no avail.
Meanwhile, China said Friday that Beijing is keeping a
"close watch" on developments relating to the fatal shooting, which it strongly condemned.
"(We) demand that the Philippines investigate the case immediately and explain the incident as soon as possible," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news briefing.
"What I want to stress is that the Chinese side is strongly concerned about the Philippines' repeated use of force against unarmed fishermen," she said.