Philippines protesters to sail to disputed shoal

Filipino protesters said on Thursday they plan to sail to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, amid efforts by rival claimants China and the Philippines to resolve a tense maritime stand-off.

Led by Nicanor Faeldon, an outspoken former captain in the Philippines Marines, the group is to launch out toward Scarborough Shoal on Friday, his spokesman Kit Guerrero said Thursday.

"They want to protest against the aggression being committed by China against our country," Guerrero told AFP.

He said at least two fishing vessels carrying Faeldon's group were expected to arrive at the shoal later on Friday.

"They are intending to stay there at least three days and fish, if they are not prevented from doing so," Guerrero said, adding planting a Philippine flag on the rock was also an option.

The group of at least six however could be stopped or even detained by Chinese naval patrols, he said.

Both countries have had ships posted around the shoal since April 10, when Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.

Both sides later imposed separate fishing bans around the disputed area that came into effect on Wednesday.

The bans are seen by some observers in Manila as an opportunity for a face-saving way by both claimants to back away from the row.

Philippine Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Tonsay reiterated Thursday that the Filipino fishing ban was now in effect, while adding there was no travel ban to the area.

"You cannot fish, but you are not prevented from going there," he told AFP.

Foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez did not immediately reply to a request for comment by AFP.

Faeldon had served time in prison and was discharged from the Philippine Marines for a 2003 coup attempt, but was granted amnesty last year. The captain has in the past called for civil disobedience and greater accountability in the Philippine military.

The shoal sits about 230 kilometres (140 miles) from the Philippines' main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200 kilometres northwest of the shoal, according to Philippine navy maps.

China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbours, while the Philippines claims the shoal as being well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

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