A SENIOR Chinese military official strongly hinted yesterday that the headquarters for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in Hongkong after 1997 would be set up in the same location on the waterfront in Central now occupied by the British forces command. Xu Huizi, deputy chief of the general staff of the PLA, is the highest ranking military official to have revealed details of the highly sensitive deployment plan in the Special Administrative Region (SAR). The possibility that PLA troops would be visible and active on the streets of Central prompted some legislators to urge China to reconsider the plan, saying that the sight of uniformed Chinese soldiers might be unsettling to Hongkong people. However, Mr Xu confirmed in his remarks in Beijing that a special training programme for troops to be sent to Hongkong after the handover had already begun in Guangzhou. Training included studying Hongkong laws as well as learning English and Cantonese, he said. ''We will have stricter requirements and higher demands on the Chinese troops in Hongkong so that they can do a better job in fulfilling their defence mission in the territory,'' he said. Mr Xu said he was fully confident about the discipline of the PLA officers to be stationed in the SAR, and ruled out problems such as corruption. He was speaking just before attending the inaugural ceremony of the newly formed working panel to prepare for the setting up of the post-1997 government. Mr Xu is one of the members of the 57-strong working organ, now officially called the Preliminary Working Committee for the Special Administrative Region Preparatory Committee. Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen is chairman of the panel. The stationing of Chinese troops in Hongkong has been a contentious issue for more than seven years at the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) meetings during which British officials have been persuading their Chinese counterparts to release military sites in the urban area for commercial development. Hours after Mr Xu made his comments, Governor Chris Patten said: ''I am not responsible for where exactly the PLA forces are stationed after 1997..As you know, this is being discussed by the JLG. I think it will be resolved.'' The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Michael Sze Cho-cheung, said: ''After 1997 there will be PLA in Hongkong. That's a fact of life. As to how those military are to be deployed, it's not a matter for the pre-1997 Government.'' In spite of local anxiety about the presence of PLA soldiers in the city centre, Mr Xu made it clear that Chinese troops would be stationed in both urban and rural areas. ''What is the present situation of the British military deployment in Hongkong? [Their military presence in urban areas] demonstrated that there is a need. I'm afraid that the PLA troops will be deployed in both urban and rural areas,'' he said. Mr Xu said it was a matter of course that the headquarters of the PLA should be located in an urban area because the stationing of troops was ''a symbol of the Chinese sovereignty itself''. Asked if the headquarters would be set up at the present site of the HMS Tamar naval base, he asked: ''Isn't the British Garrison stationed there?'' Britain earlier decided to relocate the naval base on the Central waterfront to Stonecutters Island despite Chinese opposition. The two sides are at loggerheads on whether the present Prince of Wales Building should be handed over to the Chinese military. Mr Xu is a member of the working panel's sub-group on law and order, which is expected to discuss the PLA's deployment in Hongkong. He stressed that the top priority for the PLA was to take into account the defence needs of the SAR. The economic and social prosperity of Hongkong would also be considered. He said it was too early to say the exact size of the Chinese military deployment in Hongkong in the face of changing global circumstances. Earlier reports said more than 10,000 Chinese troops would be stationed in the territory after 1997. Mr Xu said: ''I have not heard about that. Just how many soldiers we need to send to Hongkong depends on the defence needs. ''There are still four years to go before the resumption of sovereignty. The international situation will have a lot of changes in four years' time. Defence considerations always depend on international changes,'' he said. On the training programme for the troops to be deployed to Hongkong, Mr Xu said a long period of training was essential in order to ensure a high standard of military service. ''We are making these preparations . . . It takes time for someone to learn other languages. English is necessary. So is Cantonese. They have to learn at least two languages.'' In addition to political and military training, he said the troops would have to understand the laws of Hongkong. Under the Basic Law, troops in the PLA will have to abide by both the mainland laws and Hongkong laws. ''Under this situation, they have to seriously learn and study Hongkong laws. Based on the laws of the mainland and Hongkong, the troops will formulate their own specific systems and requirements,'' he said. The mainland co-convenor of the working panel's sub-group on social and security issues, Wang Shuwen, said members shared the view that mutual understanding between the PLA and Hongkong people on the deployment of troops should be increased. The Hongkong co-convenor of the sub-group, Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai said the issue of PLA deployment in Hongkong was a sensitive one and should be handled carefully. Mrs Fan said there were a number of matters involved with the PLA deployment that needed to be made clear to help allay the concerns of Hongkong people. Asked if the troops should be deployed in urban areas, she said she had yet to discuss the details of this issue with sub-group members. Hongkong people did not feel unease with the British troops in Central because the soldiers seldom walked in the streets in their army uniforms, she said. Mrs Fan also said the PLA troops in Hongkong should have some knowledge of Hongkong's legal system, as it was stipulated by the Basic Law that the PLA troops should abide by the territory's laws. In Hongkong, Executive Councillor Professor Felice Lieh-mak rejected the need for the PLA to be stationed in urban areas, saying there were other ways to express Chinese sovereignty. Liberal Party chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei said he hoped China could consider the views of Hongkong people when deciding the matter, adding that Hongkong people had a fear of PLA troops being stationed in urban areas. United Democrat James To Kun-sun said he did not feel it was necessary to have the troops in such areas, considering that the chance of Hongkong being invaded was remote. Such a move would also affect Hongkong's image as a prospering, cosmopolitan city, he said.