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Hong Kong, Philippines end emotional hostage row

HONG KONG--Hong Kong and the Philippines announced Wednesday they had resolved an enduring and deeply emotional row over a deadly hostage crisis, allowing soured diplomatic relations to return to normal.

The breakthrough came after a deal was struck on the most sensitive issues of compensation to the victims of the tragedy, which saw eight tourists from Hong Kong killed following a bus hijacking in Manila in 2010, as well as an apology.

“The resolution of the incident enables the normalization of the bilateral relations between Hong Kong and the Philippines,” the Chinese territory's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, told reporters after the deal was struck.

Filipino security forces bungled a rescue attempt. They shot dead the hijacker, but eight of the Hong Kong tourists died and seven others were injured.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino admitted mistakes were made in the rescue efforts, but refused to apologize on behalf of the government because he said the hijacker caused the crisis.

Aquino's refusal to apologize was one of the key factors that led to Hong Kong imposing in February visa restrictions against Philippine government officials.

The Hong Kong government had already issued a “black” travel warning shortly after the fiasco advising its citizens from visiting the Philippines.

Leung said both of those punishments were lifted on Wednesday.

A statement released by the two governments said four demands made by the victims and their families — on an apology, compensation, sanctions against responsible officials and individuals, and tourist safety measures — had been resolved.

The statement said the issue of an apology had been settled by the Philippine government expressing “its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy.”

However it appeared the Philippine government succeeded in avoiding a formal apology.

An apology was instead issued by the Manila city government.

Estrada, a former Philippine president, has previously apologized to the families.

Tse Chi-kin, whose brother, tour guide Masa Tse, was killed, said the phrase “sorrowful regret” was “marginally acceptable.”

“It's still an apology,” Estrada told reporters. “We feel sorry for what happened.”

Compensation Key to Deal

The Philippines had already provided undisclosed financial compensation to victims and their relatives, with the money donated by private individuals.

Wednesday's statement said more financial compensation would be given, although there were no details on the amount.

“An additional token of solidarity will be given to the victims or their families as a most sincere gesture of compassion of the people of the Philippines,” the statement said.

Hong Kong media reported the compensation package totaled HK$20 million (US$2.58 million), with HK$1.5 million for each of the deceased and HK$3 million for the injured.

“If we continue to dwell on this incident there will be negative impact on multiple parties, so we have finally accepted this arrangement,” Tse said.

The agreement came after Joseph Estrada, the mayor of Manila and a former president, as well as Aquino's chief aide and the national police chief, traveled to the southern Chinese city this week with the peace offerings.

“It was a very fruitful and successful resolution of the case,” Estrada told the Philippines' ABS-CBN television network via phone from Hong Kong.

“Our relations with Hong Kong are now normal and I pledged on our side that all Hong Kong tourists will be protected under my watch.”

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Tse Chi-kin, second right, brother of killed hostage Masa Tse, is accompanied with hostage survivor and victims' family members during a news conference in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 23.(AP)

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