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Philippines says it is making headway on sea row
MANILA, Sept 23 (AFP) Sep 23, 2011
The Philippines said Friday it had made headway in its bid to form a united front with its Southeast Asian neighbours against what it calls China's "illegal" grab of most of the South China Sea.

A meeting of delegates from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed at a Manila meeting that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea should be the framework to resolve territorial disputes, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said.

The Philippines has accused the Chinese military of aggressive acts in South China Sea areas claimed by Manila, including firing on Filipino fishermen, laying buoys on Filipino islets and harassing an oil exploration vessel.

It called the meeting in an effort to form a united ASEAN front to blunt what it calls China's "illegal" sovereignty claim on all of the sea, including waters lapping the coasts of Southeast Asian countries.

The delegates also endorsed an interim Philippine plan to ease tensions, which calls for identifying disputed areas, Conejos told reporters.

"Not only did we achieve something by endorsing it (the Philippine proposal) to the senior officials' meeting, we were also able to get first of all a reaffirmation of a rules-based approach to a settlement," he said.

Legal experts from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, which all have claims to parts of the sea, attended the meeting.

Experts from Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand were also present, while Cambodia and Laos, the two other countries in the 10-member ASEAN, did not send delegates, Conejos said.

Conejos said the experts' report would be tabled at the ASEAN senior officials' meeting in Indonesia next month, for possible endorsement by foreign ministers and eventually its leaders at a summit there in November.

China should not take umbrage at the Philippine initiative because it was an attempt to advance an earlier agreement by ASEAN and China to eventually set up a code of conduct in the disputed areas, he added.

"Maritime territorial disputes will take generations to be (resolved)," he said. "In the meantime... this is what we propose to do."

The Philippines acknowledges the Spratly islands, that reputedly sit on vast oil and gas deposits and which lie near important sea lanes, is in a disputed part of the sea, meaning China and other nations have legitimate rival claims.

But it insists nearby areas where it has recently granted oil and gas exploration permits are parts of its territory.

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