Philippines admits to shooting at Taiwan boat

The Philippines admitted Friday that its coastguard fired at a Taiwanese fishing boat in an incident that authorities in Taipei said left a crewman dead and triggered widespread outrage on the island.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou demanded that the Philippines apologise for Thursday's shooting, which the Taiwanese government said killed a 65-year-old fisherman and badly damaged the vessel.

But Philippine coastguard spokesman Commander Armand Balilo said the incident took place in Philippine waters and the Filipino personnel had been properly carrying out their duties to stop illegal fishing.

"If somebody died, they deserve our sympathy but not an apology," Balilo told reporters.

Balilo said the incident happened just north of the main Philippine island of Luzon in the Balintang channel, which is part of the Philippines' territory and not claimed by any other country or Taiwan.

"This is part of Philippine waters," he said.

Balilo said the 30-metre (100-foot) coastguard vessel initially saw two fishing vessels and tried to approach them. He said the coastguard crew fired at the smaller of the two vessels after it tried to ram the Filipino boat.

"They fired at the machinery to disable it. They were able to disable the vessel although they were not aware at the time that somebody had been hit," he said.

Balilo said the coastguard quickly left the area after it saw a third vessel, "a big white ship", come into view.

"Our people felt threatened so they left the area," he said.

In Taipei, Ma insisted the Philippine side was at fault.

"We demand the Philippines investigate and clarify the truth, to apologise, apprehend the killer and compensate," he told reporters.

Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lin also said he was "very angry".

The incident dominated Taiwanese media, which strongly condemned the Filipinos and carried reports from the boat's captain insisting he did not cross over into Philippine waters.

"Barbaric Philippine vessel fired at our fishing boat, seasoned fisherman shot dead," read the headline of a front-page story in the Taipei-based China Times newspaper.

Hung Yu-chih, the captain of the boat who is also the dead man's son, told the China Times that Philippine gunmen fired several shots at them.

He said one of the shots hit the fuel tank of the vessel, which had only four people on board.

Two Taiwanese fishing boats came to Hung's rescue after he called for help, and towed the boat back to a port in southern Taiwan.

In 2006, a Taiwanese fishing boat skipper was shot dead off the northern Philippines. Taipei protested then to the Philippines over what it said was the improper use of weapons.

Taiwan has ruled itself since 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory. The Philippines, like most countries, officially recognises China over Taiwan but maintains trade ties with the island.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tensions around the region over rival claims to the nearby South China Sea.

China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei all have competing claims to parts of the sea.

China's increasingly aggressive tactics to assert its authority over the waters in recent years have raised alarm among the rival claimants. China said on Tuesday it had sent one of its largest fishing fleets into the sea.

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