Asia-Pacific

Manila to probe Hong Kong hostage coffin 'mix-up'

Funeral parlour workers lower the coffin of one of Hong Kong's victims in Manila. Photo: 25 August 2010
Image caption Hong Kong officials did no reveal which coffins were mislabelled

The Philippines says it will investigate claims that coffins of three of Hong Kong's eight victims of a bus hijacking were wrongly labelled.

The pledge comes after Hong Kong's officials said the mix-up was discovered at a morgue after the coffins had been flown from Manila.

On Sunday, a rally was held in Hong Kong to protest against Manila's handling of the hijacking last week.

They demanded an explanation of how the eight Hong Kong tourists were killed.

Their coach was hijacked by a disgraced ex-policeman, Rolando Mendoza. He was killed as police attempted to rescue the hostages on 23 August.

Mendoza, 55, seized the bus with an assault rifle in an attempt to get back the job he lost in 2009 for extortion and threat-making.

'Blunder'

The pledge by the Philippine government comes after Hong Kong's Security Bureau revealed on Thursday that the bodies of three of the eight victims had been mislabelled.

It said that the mistake was discovered when the families of the victims opened the coffins at the morgue in Hong Kong eight days ago.

The bureau added that it was possible that the blunder was made at a Manila funeral parlour because the victims' families had identified the bodies before the coffins were flown to Hong Kong.

Image caption Hong Kong people are demanding an explanation for the handling of the siege

However, the officials did no reveal which victims were mixed up.

"If there was a mix-up of those names, we apologise," Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

"It was really the desire to facilitate and bring the bodies to Hong Kong as quickly as possible, because that will ease the pain of the families," she added.

'Demand justice'

In all, 22 Hong Kong tourists were taken hostage along with three Filipinos - a driver, a guide and a photographer.

Nine people were released in early negotiations, but 15 were kept aboard the curtained bus for hours as the hostage drama was played out before live television cameras and broadcast around the world.

"Everyone saw how the Philippine government mishandled the situation before TV cameras and the chaos in the country," Andy Wong, 49, said at Sunday's protest in Hong Kong.

"As a Chinese person, I need to demand justice," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Police in the Philippines said on Sunday that the hostages were killed by Mendoza's gun and not police weapons during their rescue operation.

As the talks failed and Mendoza became increasingly agitated, police made several unsuccessful attempts to board the coach. Shots could be heard fired from inside the curtained bus and no-one knew how many hostages were still alive.

Survivors and experts have criticised the Manila police for being indecisive and slow in their handling of the crisis.

Anger in Hong Kong has been further fuelled by the news that highly-trained army and police teams who specialised in hostage takings were standing by but not used, says our correspondent.

The anger has also spread to mainland China as thousands of tourists there have cancelled their flight and hotel bookings in the Philippines, damaging the country's tourist industry.

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