New appeal for jailed pair

HONGKONG tourism industry officials made another desperate appeal to the Philippine and British governments yesterday for the release of two Hongkong residents convicted of drug smuggling.

However, the delegation, led by Legislative Councillor Mr Howard Young, left Manila uncertain whether tour leader Paul Au Wing-cheung and factory worker Wong Chuen-ming would see a quick end to a legal quagmire that has dragged on for almost two years.

''Our only target is to get these two boys out,'' Mr Young said, when asked if the group had handed the Philippine Government a deadline for resolving the case. ''We strongly believe these two men are innocent.'' ''It has been 16 months since Paul Au has been imprisoned. And our delegation has been here many times,'' said Mr Ronnie Yuen, president of Skal Travel Service.

The two Hongkong men and nine Malaysian tourists were arrested on September 7, 1991, at Manila Airport when police found 33 kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride, or ice, in their baggage.

The entire group was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of violating the country's Dangerous Drug Law.

Proclaiming innocence, Au and Wong requested a re-trial but a fire a year ago at the court put a review off for several months. Last October, Pasay City regional trial court judge Ms Lillia Lopez ruled to allow a re-trial but on condition that court documents be accurately reproduced.

Also joining in on the overnight visit were Mr Tse Hon-chung, managing director of Haneda Travel Service Ltd, and Mr Matthew Yim, managing director of Select Tours International, which had hired Au in 1991.

Yesterday morning, the group attempted to see the British ambassador but were met instead by British consul Mr James Foulton.

A British Embassy spokesman said they were providing normal consular services to Au and that he was visited regularly by consular officials.

Before heading back to Hongkong, the six-member delegation met lawyer Mr Benjamin Santos and visited the decrepit Pasay City Jail to check on the two prisoners.

At an impromptu news conference in the jail, Mr Young pointed out that a 90-day deadline had passed in which the court was to have rendered an opinion on a review of the case.

Members of the delegation said they received ''no solid answers'' from government authorities on why the case was dragging on - other than a court fire had created an unfortunate backlog of cases.

Mr Yuen said the group had been in touch with the Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Hongkong, Mr Alastair Goodlad.

, who had passed on instruction to the British Embassy in Manila.