Hong Kong, Philippines end emotional hostage row

Hong Kong, Philippines end emotional hostage row

HONG KONG - Hong Kong and the Philippines announced Wednesday they had resolved an enduring and deeply emotional row over a deadly hostage crisis, allowing soured diplomatic relations to return to normal.

The breakthrough came after a deal was struck on the most sensitive issues of compensation to the victims of the tragedy, which saw eight tourists from Hong Kong killed following a bus hijacking in Manila in 2010, as well as an apology.

"The resolution of the incident enables the normalisation of the bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines," the Chinese territory's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, told reporters after the deal was struck.

Hong Kong had long been infuriated by the Philippine government's response to the incident, in which a disgraced ex-Manila police officer hijacked a tour bus in protest at his sacking.

Day-long negotiations to release the hostages trapped on the bus failed and, with the drama being broadcast live around the world, Filipino security forces bungled a rescue attempt.

They shot dead the hijacker, but eight of the Hong Kong tourists died and seven others were injured.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino admitted mistakes were made in the rescue efforts, but refused to apologise on behalf of the government because he said the hijacker caused the crisis.

Aquino's refusal to apologise was one of the key factors that led to Hong Kong imposing in February visa restrictions against Philippine government officials.

The Hong Kong government had already issued a "black" travel warning shortly after the fiasco advising its citizens from visiting the Philippines.

Leung said both of those punishments were lifted on Wednesday.

A statement released by the two governments said four demands made by the victims and their families - on an apology, compensation, sanctions against responsible officials and individuals, and tourist safety measures - had been resolved.

The statement said the issue of an apology had been settled by the Philippine government expressing "its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy".

However it appeared the Philippine government succeeded in avoiding a formal apology.

An apology was instead issued by the Manila city government.

Compensation key to deal

The Philippines had already provided undisclosed financial compensation to victims and their relatives, with the money donated by private individuals.

Wednesday's statement said more financial compensation would be given, although there were no details on the amount.

"An additional token of solidarity will be given to the victims or their families as a most sincere gesture of compassion of the people of the Philippines," the statement said.

Hong Kong media reported the compensation package totalled HK$20 million ($2.58 million), with HK$1.5 million for each of the deceased and HK$3 million for the injured.

Tse Chi-kin, the brother of one of the people who died, confirmed the relatives were now prepared to move on.

"If we continue to dwell on this incident there will be negative impact on multiple parties, so we have finally accepted this arrangement," Tse said.

The agreement came after Joseph Estrada, the mayor of Manila and a former president, as well as Aquino's chief aide and the national police chief, travelled to the southern Chinese city this week with the peace offerings.

"It was a very fruitful and successful resolution of the case," Estrada told the Philippines' ABS-CBN television network via phone from Hong Kong.

"Our relations with Hong Kong are now normal and I pledged on our side that all Hong Kong tourists will be protected under my watch." Aquino's top aide, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras, held a press conference in Hong Kong in which he thanked the victims and relatives for accepting the terms of the deal.

"I am most grateful to the people of Hong Kong, especially the family members and the victims... that have now spoken out in favour of the final resolution," Almendras said.

"From here on end, we believe that it is time for us to heal the (bilateral) relationship." More than 160,000 Filipinos live in Hong Kong, with most working as domestic helpers.

During the worst moments of the row, some of the Filipino maids in Hong Kong said they had faced threats and harassment, and feared losing their jobs.

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