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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Russian patrol boat fires on Japan boat, one dead

Wed, 16 Aug 2006, 00:28

TOKYO: A Japanese fisherman died after a Russian border patrol boat fired on a fishing boat, apparently the first fatality in 50 years in a dispute over northern waters, Japan Coast Guard officials said on Wednesday.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said it had asked the Russian side to confirm the facts and that, if it was the case that a fisherman had been shot to death, it would protest vigorously and may seek both an apology and compensation.

In a statement it demanded the immediate release of the crabbing craft and its three remaining crew members, who were seized east of Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

Kyodo news service quoted Mikhail Galuzin, a diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo, as saying the patrol had fired after the boat defied an order to stop and had seized it in Russian waters. Galuzin had visited Japan's foreign ministry to explain the incident, Kyodo added.

Japan and Russia have been locked in a long-running dispute over the islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia.

The simmering feud has prevented them from signing a peace treaty more than 60 years after the end of World War Two.

The four islands, as close as 15 km (9 miles) from Hokkaido, were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of the war in 1945, forcing about 17,000 Japanese residents to flee.

Russia has said it is willing to hand over two islands but Japan insists that all four must be returned.

Fishing disputes are common in the area, and Russian border patrols often try to capture Japanese fishermen. But the last time a Japanese fisherman was shot dead by a Soviet vessel was nearly 50 years ago, in October 1956, Japanese officials said.

"Seizures of Japanese fishing boats by Russia in the waters are not rare, but shooting is very rare," a Japan Coast Guard official said.

The 4.9-tonne Japanese boat was in the disputed waters when the border guard opened fire, another Coast Guard official said.

"We received a report that the fishing boat was fired on and one of the four fishermen was dead," he said, adding that the other three men were unhurt.

The Russians took the boat and the fishermen to one of four nearby islands claimed by both Russia and Japan, while the Japan Coast Guard sent two patrol boats to the scene of the incident to gather information, the official said.

"When everything has been made clearer, I think the Japanese government is going to make a protest about the excessive use of force," a Japanese government source said
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