Philippines to charge 'poachers' despite China warning

Philippines to charge 'poachers' despite China warning

PUERTO PRINCESA - Philippine prosecutors said Monday they would charge nine Chinese fishermen arrested in disputed South China Sea waters with environmental crimes, despite Beijing's warning of a dire effect on relations.

The decision, announced by prosecutors in Puerto Princesa on Palawan island, is set to further stoke the simmering territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Prosecutor Allan Ross Rodriguez told AFP he would file charges in court later Monday, rejecting the appeals of two Chinese diplomats who met him earlier in the day about the case.

"It is clear: there was a fishing vessel, Chinese fishermen, a catch of (protected) sea turtles. It is clear from what the apprehending officers said," Rodriguez said, explaining the basis for his decision.

Chinese embassy officials in Manila could not be contacted for comment.

Filipino police seized the Chinese-flagged vessel and detained its 11 crew last week off disputed Half Moon Shoal.

However, two were found to be minors and would be repatriated without charges, Rodriguez said.

The remaining nine would be charged with violating laws against poaching and catching protected species.

If found guilty of collecting "rare, threatened or endangered" species, the most serious allegation, they could face up to 20 years in prison and large fines.

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