Tsang presses Aquino over hostage tragedy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2010, 12:00am

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday launched a fresh appeal for justice over the Manila hostage deaths in his first meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino since the August tragedy.

Officials on both sides said the conversation on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Yokohama, Japan, was cordial but frank. Tsang pushed for results and Aquino tried to find ways of turning the page in his fledgling relations with both Beijing and Hong Kong leaders.

'We are anxious to see justice done in the investigation work undertaken by the Philippine authorities and the actions taken against the people involved,' Tsang said in a statement after the pair spoke for about 10 minutes. 'We hope the Philippine government will fulfil its pledge to be accountable to victims.'

On August 23, eight Hong Kong tourists were killed and seven others injured aboard a tourist bus hijacked by sacked police officer Rolando Mendoza amid repeatedly bungled rescue attempts - all played out live on international television.

Tsang's statement noted Hong Kong's earlier disappointment at Aquino's review of an investigation report and warned that Hong Kong would be watching closely for the results of a further review into emergency procedures for handling any similar incidents.

Officials said, however, that Tsang did not repeat specific concerns over Aquino's decision to take only administrative sanctions - not criminal action - against four police officers and two senior administrators whose incompetence and neglect allowed the 11-hour hostage stand-off to spiral out of control.

'The time was brief but the conversation was frank ... all key points were made,' one Hong Kong official said.

Aquino's decision came despite an independent panel demanding criminal investigation or prosecution against 10 government and police officials, two journalists and three broadcasters.

Philippine officials said any change to that decision was unlikely.

'At least we know action will be taken if it is done administratively ... the problem with criminal action is that what happens if they are found not guilty? No one wants to see that,' one official close to Aquino said.

While Aquino said after yesterday's meeting that 'both sides want to put this behind us', his officials acknowledged that considerable work was still needed.

While Aquino and Tsang were speaking, President Hu Jintao approached them and, according to a Filipino official, appeared happy that Tsang and Aquino were mending fences.

Aquino 'believes it was a big step towards settling lingering issues between the Philippines and Hong Kong', the official said.

Aquino sought a formal bilateral session with Hu this weekend. But by yesterday no meeting had been fixed.

'It is our intention to fully account for everything that has been done since, from the investigations to the improvements to our tourist police and special forces procedures,' the Aquino official said.