Manila makes 'official apology' over Taiwanese fisherman's death

TAIPEI - A Philippine special envoy visited Taiwan on Thursday to offer an "official apology" for the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman, a move likely to ease severely strained ties.

Amadeo R. Perez, chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office, which handles relations in the absence of diplomatic ties, travelled to the small southern port town of Hsiaoliuchiu to meet the family of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng.

Mr Perez, in televised comments, said he wished to convey "the Philippine people's deep regret and apology to the family of Mr Hung Shih-cheng over this unfortunate loss of life of their beloved one".

"May I respectfully present our official letter of apology to the family of Mr Hung on behalf of our president and our people," he told Mr Hung's widow, before giving her the letter and shaking her hands.

Tensions between Taipei and Manila rose sharply after the 65-year-old old was shot dead by Filipino coastguards on May 9 in waters near an island in the Philippines' extreme north, which Taiwan also claims as part of its economic zone.

Taiwan rejected earlier apologies by Manila as inadequate and imposed a series of sanctions, including a ban on hiring new Filipino workers, an advisory urging Taiwanese not to visit the Philippines and the suspension of trade and academic exchanges.

But diplomatic tensions eased after Philippine authorities said on Wednesday they had recommended homicide charges against eight Filipino coast guards for Mr Hung's death.

Taiwan has welcomed the move as a "constructive response" and Premier Jiang Yi-huah said on Thursday that his government would consider lifting the sanctions.

Mr Perez had previously visited Taiwan in May as a "personal representative" of President Benigno Aquino, but his apology was rejected by the Taipei government because he had described Mr Hung's death as "unintended".

The killing caused outrage and protests in Taiwan, with President Ma Ying-jeou describing it as "cold-blooded murder" as Taipei responded with the sanctions and with navy drills.