Japan to ask nationals not to visit Russian-held islands

Japanese have been urged not to get Russian visas to visit Northern Territories.

Tokyo: The Japanese government on Friday decided to ask its nationals to refrain from visiting Russian-held islands claimed by Japan with Russian visas, in the wake of a recent series of trips to the disputed isles by Japanese businessmen and tourists.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said that the recent cases "give the wrong impression to the general public that they can freely enter the Northern Territories and cause a problem with other Japanese who refrain from visiting the islands by adhering to a 1989 Cabinet agreement."

Such trips could also be interpreted as Japan`s acceptance of the status quo of Russian rule and "cast a damper on efforts by Japanese who have ardently worked to settle the issue for more than 65 years since the end of World War II," the top government spokesman said.

Based on the 1989 Cabinet decision, which is not legally binding, the Japanese government has been urging its citizens to refrain from obtaining Russian visas to visit the four disputed islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan, as such action effectively recognises Russia`s sovereignty over the islands.

The islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islet group -- known in Russia as the Southern Kurils -- were seized by the Soviets in the closing days of World War II.

The territorial row has prevented the two countries from concluding a post-World War II peace treaty.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada urged other ministers in a Cabinet meeting on Friday to warn Japanese companies that plan to visit the islands with Russian visas against doing so.

A group of Japanese tourists visited Kunashiri and Etorofu islands last month on a sightseeing tour organised by a Japanese travel agency. Two Japanese businessmen also made a trip to Etorofu in July.