China meeting to discuss shootout
A TOP level police delegation will go to China this month to discuss last week's shootout in Hong Kong waters in which more than 100 shots were exchanged between Anti-Smuggling Task Force (ASTF) officers and smugglers.
The routine trip to Guangdong was planned before the incident but the Hong Kong side would take the opportunity to discuss the recent increase in force used by mainland smugglers.
The Royal Navy and the ASTF have been fired on twice in less than a week.
The use of firearms comes at a time when the authorities have the upper hand and arrests are running at an all-time high.
According to ASTF figures, the number of people arrested for smuggling rose dramatically from 147 in 1992 to 490 last year, mainly due to Operation Disavow which started in March.
The police delegation, made up of senior headquarters staff and ASTF officers, will also hand over intelligence and other smuggling details during the meeting with their Chinese counterparts.
In the latest shooting incident on Wednesday night off Sai Kung, the ASTF fired 68 rounds at fleeing smugglers who fired back about 35 shots.
This followed an operation on New Year's Eve in which smugglers fired up to four shots at two Royal Navy fast pursuit craft near Basalt Island.
Both police and the navy believed the recent death of a smuggler, who drowned after jumping off a speeding tai fei being chased by the Royal Navy, was a key factor in the two shooting incidents.
''There have been indications it [the violence] has been building up for the last month,'' ASTF head, Senior Superintendent Laurie Poots, said.
He said the smugglers were carrying arms because ''we have heard from the ones we have arrested that they are worried about being fired on by the Customs and Excise officers in China''.
''And there is no doubt we are on a winning track and this may be one reason why they are getting desperate and why they have resorted to firepower.''