Burma releases four Taiwan fishermen

Dec 29, 2009 (AFP), Burma has freed four Taiwanese fishermen held in detention for over a month for alleged illegal fishing, a Taipei official said Monday, after a fine was paid to secure their release.

"The four are scheduled to return to Taiwan later Monday," said Taiwan foreign ministry spokesman James Chang. He said an unspecified fine had to be paid before the four were allowed to leave.

The four Taiwanese were among a group of altogether 128 foreign fishermen, mostly Indonesians, charged by Burma with violating immigration laws after their vessels entered the nation’s waters in mid-November. The other 124 were also being released, Chang said.

Burma officials had earlier said the fishermen were arrested last month from ten illegal fishing vessels and sent to Insein prison for poaching in Burma’s waters, the country’s largest arrest for illegal fishing in decades.

Taiwanese business owners with investments in Burma collaborated with the island’s foreign ministry to find ways to bring about the release of the four Taiwanese nationals, Chang said, adding that the business owners paid the fine.

"The ministry’s representatives there had visited the detainees several times to ensure they were being taken good care of," Chang said.

Four Taiwanese vessels remained in Burma as of Monday, and it was unclear if or when they could be returned, he said.

Under maritime law, a nation has the right to outline an exclusive economic zone stretching up to 200 nautical miles from its shores and claim the right to exploit the resources within that area.

Burma possesses a 2,229 kilometre-long (1,385 miles) coastline along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

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