Japan warns S.Koreans over tour of disputed island

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Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan vowed Friday to take action against any visit by South Korean lawmakers to a Russian-held island at the centre of a bitter dispute between Tokyo and Moscow.

Press reports said three members of a South Korean parliamentary committee, campaigning to reassert Seoul's claim in another territorial spat with Tokyo, were planning to visit one of the disputed southern Kuril islands on Tuesday.

"We are in the middle of verifying the press reports," Kan told an upper house budget committee. "If it is proven true, we will deal with it properly."

He did not elaborate on what form action might take.

The reports came as an embarrassment to Kan's government as he was preparing to host an annual meeting with top South Korean and Chinese leaders in Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday.

Kan, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to reaffirm their cooperation in the wake of the March 11 quake and tsunami which ravaged Japan's northeast and the ensuing nuclear crisis.

Shigeru Ishiba, an executive of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters: "Prime Minister Kan must express a strong protest to South Korean President Lee at the summit" over the planned island visit.

The trio from Seoul planned to visit Kunashiri island 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 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.

Kan labelled Medvedev's trip as an "unforgivable outrage".

© 2011 AFP

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