Hong Kong's government says it will "not interfere" in the arrest by mainland Chinese authorities of 12 residents who were detained as they sought to flee to Taiwan by sea despite pleas from their families, as it emerged that Taiwan was holding five other people from Hong Kong who had also fled by boat.
In a statement late on Sunday, Hong Kong authorities said they had received requests for help from the families of the group who were detained last month by mainland law enforcement for illegal entry into mainland China as they were trying to make their way to Taiwan.
China on Sunday labelled the group "separatists".
"The relevant crime falls within the jurisdiction of the mainland and the special administrative region government respects and will not interfere with law enforcement actions," Hong Kong's government said.
The group was suspected of committing "various criminal offences" in Hong Kong, it added, as it urged the families to make use of a free legal consultation service provided.
Taiwan, meanwhile, admitted it was holding five Hong Kong residents who were found by the coast guard on the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan.
The self-ruled island has opened its doors to people from Hong Kong, which has been rocked by months of sometimes violent protests and where China recently imposed a controversial national security law, but has said they must arrive legally.
Five sources confirmed that the five were in Taiwan and currently at a coast guard facility in the southern port city of Khaosiung.