Japan anger at S. Korean visit to Russia-held isle

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Japan slammed a visit by South Korean lawmakers on Tuesday to a Russian-held island at the centre of a bitter dispute between Tokyo and Moscow.

Three members of a South Korean parliamentarian committee, campaigning to reassert Seoul's claim in another territorial spat with Tokyo, toured one of the disputed southern Kuril islands, press reports said.

"It is unacceptable that such a visit was made, particularly by members of South Korea's parliament who are in responsible positions," Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said.

"We are making arrangements as to when we will file it (a protest) and with whom," he told a news conference.

Matsumoto added that the South Korean government had denied it had anything to do with the visit.

The trio from Seoul spent one hour on Kunashiri island on Russian visas as the first South Korean lawmakers ever to land on the southern Kuril chain, the reports said.

The South Korean committee is aiming to reassert South Korea's sovereignty over another group of small islets and rocks, known as Takeshima in Japan and Tokdo in Korea.

The three flew Tuesday afternoon to Kunashiri via Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, capital of Russia's Far Eastern province of Sakhalin, Kyodo news agency reported, quoting the parliamentary committee.

One of them, Kang Chang-Il of South Korea's main opposition Democratic Party, told Kyodo by telephone before their departure that he intended to survey the frontline of a "territorial conflict" between Japan and Russia.

"I want to see firsthand the reality of (Russia's) effective control to protect (South Korea's) territorial right to Tokdo," he said.

The trio left South Korea on Sunday and met with experts on territorial issues in Vladivostok and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Kyodo reported.

The row over the southern Kurils, which have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945, has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty and inhibited bilateral ties.

The territorial spat flared anew last November when Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian president to visit the archipelago, followed by other senior Russian officials.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan labelled Medvedev's trip as an "unforgivable outrage".

© 2011 AFP

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