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Japan-Russia group may start research on disputed isles on May 30

TOKYO — Japan and Russia plan to send a joint research group to Moscow-held islands at the center of a bilateral territorial dispute as soon as May 30, with an eye toward starting joint economic activities there, diplomatic sources said Friday.

 

The group — consisting of 50 to 60 people, including government officials and business people — will conduct research for about five days to make a list of possible joint economic projects to be conducted on the Tokyo-claimed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their summit in April to send the joint group to the islands in May. Abe said at the time conducting joint activities and nurturing mutual trust will help the two countries sign a post-World War II peace treaty, which the territorial row has prevented.

 

As the group will travel to the disputed islands by a chartered vessel, the exact schedule will be determined by the weather, the sources said.

 

The two countries need to work out ways to conduct joint economic activities so that they do not raise judicial problems, as the two countries remain far apart in their stances regarding sovereignty over the islands.

 

In particular, Japan and Russia have to sort out issues such as jurisdiction when Japanese are involved in accidents or incidents while participating in joint projects, and rules over investment and financing of the projects.

 

Japan has proposed joint economic projects in areas including cultivation of fish and sea urchins, organizing ecotourism tours and building infrastructure for conducting preventive healthcare using advanced technology, the sources said. Russia is eyeing projects to rebuild old houses on the islands, they said.

 

The disputed islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. They were seized by the Soviet Union in the days soon after Japan’s surrender in World War II.

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