October 22, 2015 / 5:49 AM / 4 years ago

Philippines says handing China suspects in diplomats' shooting

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines said on Thursday two Chinese diplomats suspected of killing two colleagues will be granted diplomatic immunity and handed over to Chinese authorities, following a bizarre restaurant shooting in the central Philippines.

The husband of a Chinese woman working at a Chinese consulate in the central city of Cebu shot dead the deputy consul general and a senior staff member during a birthday lunch at the restaurant on Wednesday, police have said.

Consul General Song Ronghua was also wounded in the shooting. His deputy, Sun Shen, was shot in the neck and died. Li Hui, a female finance officer at the consulate, was shot in the head and also died.

The suspect was arrested and identified by police as Li Qing Liang. Li’s wife, Guo Jing, who works in the consulate’s visa section, was also held for questioning.

Philippines Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose told a press briefing the couple “shall enjoy immunity from criminal jurisdiction” under the Vienna Convention, and handed over to Chinese officials.

“Upon the request of the Chinese embassy, they are being held by Philippine authorities in Cebu,” he said. “As soon as their security team from Beijing arrives here we will turn over the custody to the Chinese side.”

He said the couple will undergo legal process in China and the Philippines respects the couple’s right not to give any statement to local police.

A senior police officer told Reuters no charges had been filed as immunity was being granted.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it was investigating what had happened. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she had no details to provide.

“We are deeply distressed that this kind of incident has taken place. The relevant situation and reasons are in the process of being investigated and understood further,” she told a daily briefing in Beijing.

Rey Lawas, a police spokesman in Cebu city, said investigators believe the shooting could be the result of a personal grudge over financial matters between Li and Sun, the deputy consul general, or the woman finance officer.

“They have been at odds for a long time over personal finances,” Lawas said, adding the fight “was purely personal”.

Waiters at the Lighthouse, a popular Filipino-food restaurant, have told police they heard shouting from a private room but could not understand what was being said.

Minutes later they heard gunshots.

The senior police officer said investigators would also look into how the pistol used in the shooting had been acquired.

“In Cebu, it’s easy to procure a gun because of a large cottage industry for homemade guns,” a police officer, who asked not to be identified, said.

China’s state-back Global Times newspaper said in an editorial on Thursday that diplomats often worked in stressful environments. “The diplomatic service should not consider themselves to be immune to problems, nor can the public think in this way,” it said.

Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing By Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore

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