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Russian Patrol Boat Fires on Japanese Vessel, Fisherman Killed

Mos News | August 15 2006

A Russian patrol boat fired on a Japanese fishing vessel near islands the two countries are disputing over Wednesday, killing a fisherman, the Coast Guard said. Japan called the shooting “totally unacceptable” and demanded compensation, AFP reports.

Japan also demanded the immediate release of the surviving crew and the boat, which was seized by Russian authorities after the shooting. Russia claimed the boat had defied orders to stop, Kyodo News agency reported.

The crab fisherman was shot and killed near Kaigara island, one of several islands in the Kuril chain northeast of Hokkaido that is administered by Russia and claimed by Japan, Japanese Coast Guard official Kazuhiro Nakaya said. The Foreign Ministry did not immediately confirm the death.

Chikahito Harada, the Japanese Foreign Ministry official in charge of European affairs, summoned Russia’s deputy ambassador to his office and issued Japan’s demands. “From our position on the territorial issue, this extraordinary incident, which had possibly caused the death of a crew member is totally unacceptable,” the ministry quoted Harada as telling Galuzin.

“Our country strongly demands (Russia) prevents a recurrence of similar incidents,” the statement said. “We also note that we have a right to claim punishment of officials in charge of the incident and compensation for the damages.”

Foreign Minister Taro Aso said more information about the shooting was still needed.

“At this point, we do not have any accurate information,” Aso said at a news conference. “We cannot say at this point whether Russia’s claim or its investigations are right or wrong.”

Japan’s Fishery Agency acknowledged that crab fishing in the area where the shooting took place is illegal, though it was unclear whether the crew was fishing at the time, a fisheries official said. The Foreign Ministry insisted the boat was in Japanese waters.

It was the first such shooting death of a Japanese in a border dispute with Russia since a similar incident in October 1956, Coast Guard officials said.

A total of 30 fishing boats and 210 Japanese crew members were seized by Russia in the disputed northern waters between 1994 and 2005, while seven fishermen were injured when Russian coast guard members fired at them during the same period, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Following Wednesday’s altercation, the Japanese boat’s crew of four was being taken to nearby Kunashiri island, which is also in the southern Kuril chain, for further investigation, Nakaya said. The remaining three crew members were believed to be uninjured, he said.

Japan dispatched two coast guard vessels to the shooting scene for investigation.

The sparsely populated Kuril islands were seized by the Soviet army in the closing days of the World War II. Tokyo has called the seizure illegal and wants them returned. The territorial dispute has kept the two countries from signing a formal treaty ending wartime hostilities.

“From Japan’s point of view, it’s inherent territory of Japan. So we cannot tolerate such an incident,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said.

The islands are surrounded by rich fishing waters and are believed to have promising offshore oil and natural gas reserves, as well as gold and silver deposits.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to revive a 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration under which Moscow had agreed to return two of the islands, but Tokyo rejected the proposal as insufficient and talks on the issue are deadlocked.

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