* Chinese caught with endangered turtles at disputed reef
* No interpreter for Chinese or approval to represent them
* Embassy denies pressure on local Chinese not to help
(Adds comment from China's ambassador to Manila)
MANILA, June 17 A Philippine case against nine
Chinese fishermen caught with endangered turtles at a disputed
reef was held up on Tuesday due to the lack of an interpreter,
which a prosecutor blamed on pressure from China.
Manila says the fishermen were within the Philippines'
200-mile (322-km) exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea
with hundreds of marine turtles, in violation of a United
Nations convention on trading the endangered wildlife species.
China has demanded the release of the fishermen, saying the
arrest was illegal because they were caught in China's waters.
It has also denied blocking the hire of an interpreter.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, an
area believed to be rich in hydrocarbon deposits and fisheries.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan also claim
the sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes
The Chinese fishermen's pre-trial hearing has been postponed
twice and a planned session on Wednesday may also be called off
unless an interpreter is found.
"We can't find a competent interpreter for the Chinese
fishermen," a member of the prosecution team, who asked not to
be named, told Reuters.
A Chinese businessman based in the island of Palawan in the
west of the Philippine archipelago, usually volunteers his
services as interpreter in court but has begged off this time.
"There was an apparent pressure from the Chinese embassy,"
the prosecution team member added. "These people are conducting
business in China and they do not want to get involved in the
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said
provincial prosecutor Allen Rodriguez had told him that Chinese
embassy officials did not want to participate in the
"They don't want to provide interpreter for the Chinese
fishermen," Coloma quoted Rodriguez as saying. "Judge Ambrocio
de Luna and I exerted effort to look for interpreter by
requesting the Chinese community here in Palawan for assistance.
But they don't want to cooperate with us."
China's ambassador to Manila, Zhao Jianhua, denied his
government was delaying the case and demanded the immediate
release of the fishermen. "We are not blocking the hiring of an
interpreter," he told Reuters.
The court has asked the foreign ministry in Manila, the
capital, for an official interpreter in order to avoid delay.
Lawyers appointed by the court to defend the fishermen say
they are also having difficulty getting the Chinese embassy to
certify that they can handle the criminal case.
Such a sign-off is a necessary step before they can
represent the fishermen as indigent litigants.
Last month, Philippine police seized a Chinese fishing boat
in Half Moon Shoal in the disputed Spratly Islands, about 100
miles off the coast of Palawan, and arrested 11 crew members.
Two were later freed because they were minors.
(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Tom Heneghan)