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Saturday, April 19, 2014         

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Hong Kong inquest faults Philippines in hostage deaths

By MIN LEE

Associated Press

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HONG KONG>> A Hong Kong inquest concluded Wednesday that Philippine officials contributed to or caused the deaths of eight tourists from the Chinese territory who were held hostage in Manila and gunned down by a disgruntled former police officer.

A jury at Hong Kong's coroner's court faulted Philippine authorities for not meeting the hostage-taker's demands quickly enough and lying to him. The jury said the bungled rescue operation also delayed medical treatment for two victims who might have been saved.

The panel also found after a 28-day hearing that Philippine officials aggravated tense negotiations by failing to block media coverage of the gunman's brother's arrest, which outraged him. They also failed to collect intelligence from released hostages and didn't dim the lighting around the seized tour bus, giving the gunman a good view of the police attack, according to the jury.

The eight deaths shocked this wealthy southern Chinese financial hub, where violent crime is rare, and strained relations between Manila and Beijing. A Philippine government investigation found that top officials overseeing the hostage situation were negligent, but President Benigno Aquino III chose disciplinary action instead of criminal prosecution, angering survivors and the victims' families in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kongers put their hopes in their local investigation instead, hoping it would more clearly assign blame. The inquest's findings, however, do not imply civil or criminal liability, but are merely meant to establish facts.

Tse Chi-kin, the older brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse, said he was pleased that the Hong Kong inquest held the Philippine government accountable. Masa Tse was one of the two victims whom the jury thought was denied timely medical treatment that could have saved his life.

"We welcome the verdict," the elder Tse said, adding that the Tse family was considering civil action against Philippines officials.

Survivor Chan Kwok-chu, whose hands were badly wounded, blasted the Philippine government.

"If they handled the situation better, the situation wouldn't have ended tragically. The government should take responsibility for its mishandling," Chan told Hong Kong's Cable TV.

Philippine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said the Hong Kong findings were similar to Philippine ones, noting, in particular, that the Hong Kong inquest didn't blame police fire for any of the deaths.

"The Philippine government is not saying that no Philippine official was at fault. That's why there was an investigation, there were suspensions and there is still an ongoing investigation," he said. "Based on our investigations, things could have been handled better."

Robredo, however, questioned the wisdom of caving into a hostage-taker's demands quickly. Rolando Mendoza was seeking reinstatement after his firing. He was eventually killed by a sniper.

"I think it is a basic principle that you will not give in to the demands of a hostage-taker, otherwise others will take hostages too," he said. "As a rule, whether it is in the Philippines or outside the Philippines, you don't do that."

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Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report from Manila.







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