Settlement with Manila over hostages was best we could do: city official

City official says both sides had to give in order to end the row over hostage tragedy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 April, 2014, 8:32am

The resolution of the Manila hostage tragedy was the "best we can get", a senior Hong Kong government official said yesterday, explaining why wording short of a full apology had been accepted.

It was unrealistic to expect a "one-side-takes-all" outcome, the official said, a day after the deal ended a 32-month stand-off, leading to the removal of visa sanctions and lifting of a black travel warning - the highest on a three-point scale - against the Philippines.

"The wording in the joint statement is a compromise and it's natural that not everybody is fully satisfied. But in any bilateral talks, you can't expect a one-side-takes-all result," the source said, also making it clear Beijing had given Hong Kong a free hand to negotiate the settlement.

Watch: Hong Kong says Philippine hostage row over

"Both the central and Hong Kong governments position the incident as a humanitarian issue, instead of a diplomatic row," the source said. "The central government had not sent representatives to take part in the talks since October."

At one point, negotiations became so tense that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had considered leaving a meeting with Philippine President Benigno Aquino in Bali on October 7 because of an embarrassing seating arrangement, but chose to stay because he had made seeking justice for victims' families his top priority, another official said.

In a joint statement with the Hong Kong government on Wednesday, the Philippine government expressed its "most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy" over the tragedy that claimed the lives of eight Hongkongers in 2010.

Both agreed with the demands of the victims and their families for an apology, compensation, sanctions against responsible officials and individuals, and better tourist safety.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been helping the victims and families, said he had studied 70 diplomatic examples and found that the words had the meaning of an apology and could be accepted.

The Philippine government had consistently refused to offer a formal apology for the deaths during a botched rescue after sacked police officer Rolando Mendoza hijacked a Hong Kong tour bus before being shot dead.

The meeting between Leung and victims' families on Wednesday, which lasted for nearly an hour, was reportedly emotional for the officials as well as the families.

To, meanwhile, revealed for the first time yesterday that Taiwanese officials had sought his advice shortly after the Filipino coast guard shot a Taiwanese fisherman dead in May last year in waters claimed by the Philippines. "They wanted to learn what we had done," To said.

Taiwan imposed sanctions, including a ban on new Filipino workers, and Manila apologised in August.





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