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"Individual visits" complicate police task
( 2003-08-22 07:15) (China Daily)

The free travellers scheme for mainland people might complicate Hong Kong's law and order situation, Commissioner of Police Tsang Yam-pui warned Thursday.

Mainland visitors purchase gold jewelry at a store in Hong Kong, August 20, 2003. China recently agreed to allow individual tourists from parts of southern Guangdong province to visit Hong Kong in a move to give a lift to its economy. The scheme will be extended to residents from Beijing and Shanghai in September. [Reuters]

To tackle the problem, Tsang will work closely with mainland public security authorities on the issuing of entry permits.

His warning came after the massive Operation Jawbone, which was executed in conjunction with the Immigration Department and the Customs & Excise Department.

During the operation, which ran from 7 am Wednesday until the small hours of Thursday, 414 people (105 men and 309 women) were detained for various reasons.

Of those rounded up, 308 were two-way permit holders and eight were illegal immigrants.

Among other things, about 150,000 obscene and pirated video compact discs worth HK$2.5 million, 53,000 sticks of dutiable cigarettes, and a small quantity of dangerous drugs were seized.

But the police chief said the operation was not directly related to the free travellers scheme.

"The free travellers scheme definitely brings huge economic benefits to Hong Kong, yet it could also generate negative impact on law and order," he said.

"We will continue combating criminal activities committed by two-way permit holders, hoping to keep the negative impact to the bare minimum."

He added: "On one hand we will liaise closely with the mainland authorities in the hope they will vet applications for Hong Kong entry permits more stringently. On the other hand, we will enhance co-operation with local law enforcement agencies to prevent suspected persons from entering Hong Kong and combat illegal activities."

On money-laundering, Tsang said there is an accomplished monitoring system in Hong Kong while banks and financial institutions are obliged to report any suspected cases to police.

"So I am not too worried about this, and there is no sign that money-laundering activities are rising," he said.

In related news, nearly 300 illegal workers were arrested in the first seven months of the year, a 54 per cent increase compared with the same period last year.

Permanent Secretary for Economic Development & Labour Matthew Cheung feared that the problem might worsen with the implementation of the free traveller scheme, but he vowed to step up law enforcement with police and the immigration authorities.

On the tourism side, Secretary for Economic Development & Labour Stephen Ip said the government plan to convert public housing units into hostels still remains.

It is only a short-term plan to ease hotel room shortages and will not cause much competition with the hotel industry, he said.

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