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Ex-residents leave for visa-free visit to Russian-held isle

Nemuro, Hokkaido, May 24 (Jiji Press) — A group of 65 Japanese people, including former residents of Shikotan, one of the four Russian-controlled northwestern Pacific islands, departed from a port in Nemuro, Hokkaido, northern Japan, on Friday for Shikotan on a bilateral visa-free program.

They will be the second group to make a visa-free visit to any of the disputed islands in fiscal 2019 and the first since former Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) member Hodaka Maruyama made a controversial remark suggesting a war as a way to take back the Russian-held islands.

Maruyama made the war gaffe earlier this month at a gathering in Kunashiri, one of the four islands, with former residents visiting there on the visa-free program. He was expelled from Nippon Ishin but has denied that he will quit as a lawmaker.

The visa-free visitors to Shikotan, during their stay in the island through Monday, will visit a school and a sports facility there. They will also exchange opinions with Russian residents of the island.

Tokyo claims that the islands off the coast of Hokkaido were seized by the former Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II. The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.

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