THE Local Inspectors' Association (LIA) yesterday backed down in its bitter feud with the police hierarchy by issuing a statement committing its members to apolitical contact with mainland officials. The move came as the leader of the biggest civil service union yesterday supported the right of the controversial LIA chairman, Robert Chau Chuen-kung, to call for the return of capital punishment. The chairman of the 100,000-strong Chinese Civil Servants Association, Peter Wong Hyo, said: ''Since the abolition of the death penalty has an impact on law enforcement, Mr Chau, as an inspector, should not be criticised for making such comments.'' In the LIA statement, which avoids addressing directly Mr Chau's call to bring back capital punishment, the 15 executive committee members stated that they were staunch supporters of the legal system. Last night, senior police sources noted that the statement fell short of an apology but interpreted it as a decisive victory for Police Commissioner Eddie Hui Ki-on, who helped write a letter in which Mr Chau was publicly criticised. ''There is growing dissent in the ranks,'' said one source. ''This statement shows the level of pressure and concern.'' The LIA's letter was drafted at an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon at which members discussed the possibility of backing their embattled leader over his proposal to approach China's Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) about reviving the death penalty after 1997. The PWC is the Beijing-appointed panel working on the change of sovereignty. However, insiders say the prospect of fuelling a major confrontation with force management - and damaging the eight-week-old reign of their commissioner - killed all thoughts of a fight. ''The executive committee and the chairman of your association would like to reiterate that, contrary to a few contentious comments in some of the local press, your association has no plan in enlisting the support of the PWC on the issue of capital punishment,'' the LIA letter said. ''In the future, in meeting with the PWC, your association will be - as it has always been - apolitical. ''It will discuss only matters pertaining to the general well-being of its members. ''We are staunch supporters of the legal system. We are, and shall remain, apolitical in law enforcement.'' Earlier, Mr Chau told the South China Morning Post that he had nothing to say over the incident. It is believed Mr Chau's comments reflect executive discussions in the past few months on capital punishment. But, sources said, he failed to get clearance to publicly air these views or mention anything about approaching the PWC. It was unclear last night whether the LIA would send a private letter to the commissioner to ensure the furore did not interfere with next month's meeting of the Police Force Council. the forum bringing together all staff associations with management. Mr Chau, who was recently re-elected to speak on behalf of the force's 1,600 inspectors, has been chairman since mid-1992.