The Hong Kong detachment of the US Marine Corps has surrendered in a dispute against a lone Filipino maid trying to win back her severance payments. For more than six years, Ellena Reyes, now 49, dutifully cooked, washed, shopped, ironed and cleaned for a squad of seven soldiers stationed in Hong Kong to guard the US consulate. But when she was released from employment in 2001, the consulate told her she would not get statutory severance payments - amounting to $21,000 - because she was employed in three successive two-year contracts by different individual marines, rather than by a single employer. With the ensuing legal battle set to reach the Court of Appeal next month, the US government has decided, in an abrupt change of heart, to cover her claims. Leland Chu Lap-ming, a local lawyer representing the US government, said the decision to settle was made because the US Department of Justice had become involved when the matter reached the High Court. He said: 'The US government didn't feel it was something they wanted to withhold from Ms Reyes from a moral and humanitarian point of view.' In the four years since Ms Reyes' discharge from the employ of the marines, the matter involved former US consul-general to Hong Kong James Keith, a general and a colonel in the Pentagon, and even former US presidential candidate John Kerry - all of whom refused to help the embattled maid. Ms Reyes also went unsuccessfully before the labour tribunal twice and was denied legal aid. Retired physician Brian Apthrop, a former employer of Ms Reyes who has described the small sum in dispute as 'less than the price of a bomb being dropped on an Afghan wedding', accused the consulate of shameful behaviour by ignoring a former employee's plight. 'There was no way she could have done this by herself,' he said, adding that the matter was only able to be happily resolved after he enlisted the help of Angus Stuart, a solicitor who represented Ms Reyes without charge, and barrister Gerard McCoy. Speaking after picking up her cheque for $21,000 on Friday afternoon, a cheery Ms Reyes said the money would go towards buying a new apartment in the Philippines.