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Taipei, Manila may sign patrol pact before July

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan and the Philippines could sign an agreement on marine patrol cooperation in overlapping exclusive economic zones (EEZs) before July, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said yesterday.

Speaking during a regular news briefing, Benjamin Ho (何登煌), head of MOFA's Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Taipei and Manila concluded the latest round of fishery talks earlier this month.

Taiwan originally hoped to sign an official agreement on marine patrol cooperation with the Philippines during the just-concluded meeting in the event of future fishing incidents in overlapping EEZs, Ho said.

However, the Philippines side insists that some of the wording in the agreement still needs to be reviewed and approved by the highest-level authorities in Manila, Ho said.

The Philippines government will be holding a cross-strait meeting on April 24 during which issues on the agreement will be brought up, he said.

The MOFA official said he is optimistic that the agreement will be signed soon after the Philippines side resolves the wording issue.

Asked to comment if the deal will be sealed before July, the end of the ongoing fishing season, Ho said he believes the agreement will be signed before July.

Ho said the deal is meant to put some of the existing mechanisms already in place between the two sides on paper to better protect Taiwanese fishermen's rights in overlapping EEZs in the South China Sea.

The mechanisms include the establishment a hotline to facilitate two-way communication should fishery disputes occur within overlapping waters.

Both sides also agreed to disavow the use of force in patrols in the event of future fishing incidents. A mechanism for the prompt release of detained fishing vessels and their crews following arrests has also been established, he said.

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