Japan protests Russian military drill on disputed island

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Japan has lodged a protest against a Russian military drill on a group of islands disputed by the two countries and controlled by Moscow, a government official said Wednesday.

"The Japanese government confirmed Monday that Russia conducted a drill on Etorofu island," said a foreign ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Etorofu, known as Iturup in Russian, is one of four disputed islands off Japan's northern coast, collectively referred to by Tokyo as the Northern Territories.

"The Japanese embassy in Moscow immediately delivered a protest, within the day, saying it was extremely regrettable and unacceptable for Japan's position towards the Northern Territories," he said.

The two nations have never signed a treaty to formally end World War II because of Japan's claims to the four islands, which are known as the South Kurils by Russia.

They were seized by Soviet troops, who expelled Japanese residents, in the last days of the conflict.

The drill on Etorofu was part of the Vostok 2010 strategic exercises in the Russian Far East and Siberia that lasted several days starting June 29, the Japanese official said, citing the Russian defence ministry.

About 10,000 servicemen were taking part in the drill, which involved all the fleets of Russia's navy -- the Pacific, North, Black Sea and Baltic fleets -- as well as Air Force units, said Russia's Itar-Tass news agency.

Japan's Kyodo said the drill on Etorofu involved about 1,500 soldiers and a total of 200 military and special-purpose vehicles.

Japan has balked at past suggestions that Russia hand over two of the four islands or that the nations jointly develop them, insisting on the return of all four islands.

© 2010 AFP

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