Taipei, April 22 (CNA) Taiwan and the Philippines
are expected to sign an agreement covering law enforcement in fishery affairs by the end of July, part of efforts to improve cooperation following the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman last year, a foreign ministry official said Tuesday. Benjamin Ho, director-general of the ministry's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that Taiwan had originally hoped to sign the agreement before the fishing season starts in April, but deliberations over some precise wording still require approval from top authorities in the Philippines
. "Taiwan is waiting for Manila to complete its procedures," he explained. The agreement is expected to bind both countries to avoid violent enforcement of maritime law and improve communications in a bid to avoid another incident like the death of fisherman Hung Shih-cheng, who was killed by Philippine Coast Guard officers May 9, 2013. Coast Guard officers sprayed bullets at Hung's boat, the Kuang Ta Hsing No. 28, when it was operating in waters where the two countries' exclusive economic zones overlap. Ho said that to resolve the long-standing fishery dispute between the two countries, both sides have held several rounds of talks and come to terms on several issues. These include no use of "force or violence" when patrolling fishing grounds, the establishment of a bilateral communication mechanism in the event of fishery incidents, and the release of detained fishermen as soon as possible. Ho said that although the agreement has yet to be signed formally, those terms have already been put in practice. Asked if the agreement will be signed before the close of the fishing season at the end of July, he said: "I presume it will not take that long." Meanwhile, Ho said that the Philippine Department of Justice filed homicide charges last month against the eight Philippine Coast Guard officers accused of being complicit in Hung's death. The justice department has instructed the Coast Guard to suspend the suspects from duty and keep them at the Coast Guard headquarters, he said. The agreement and indictments represent a big step forward for Taiwan and the Philippines
after ties turned sour following the shooting. Taiwan had demanded a formal apology over the shooting, justice for those responsible, compensation for Hung's family, and bilateral fishery talks to prevent similar incidents. Taipei imposed a series of sanctions against Manila until the four demands were met, including a freeze on the hiring of workers from the Philippines
. The sanctions were lifted in August.
(By Tang Pei-chun and Lilian Wu)