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Philippines says it has resumed patrols at disputed shoal

Associated Press Associated Press 7/11/2016

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine coast guard said Monday it has resumed patrols at a shoal at the center of a territorial dispute with China using two vessels, including one supplied by Japan.

Coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo said the patrol boats were deployed to Scarborough Shoal last week. The Philippines plans to conduct regular patrols of those waters off the country's northwest, he said.

Balilo refused to provide other details, including how close the Philippine vessels got to Scarborough, a rich fishing area where Chinese coast guard ships continue to keep watch.

One of the Philippine patrol boats was a 40-meter (132-foot) multipurpose vessel from Japan that was officially commissioned by the coast guard last month. Japan is to provide nine more vessels in the next two years.

China took control of the shoal in 2012 after a tense standoff with Philippine government ships, which withdrew in compliance with a U.S.-brokered arrangement that Filipino officials say China then reneged on. China blocked Filipinos from fishing at the shoal, prompting then President Benigno Aquino III to take the dispute to international arbitration.

Filipino fishermen regained access to the shoal after Aquino's successor, Rodrigo Duterte, began to mend strained relations and met Chinese officials in Beijing last month.

Some of the first Filipino fishermen to sail to Scarborough said they fished in deeper waters just outside the shoal's coral-ringed lagoon because the fish there are larger. A Chinese coast guard ship lay watching at the only entryway to the lagoon, but there have been no reports that it blocked Filipinos from entering the area.

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