April 21, 2006

Japan, S.Korea hold “tough” talks on disputed isles

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - Japanese and South Korean officials held
"tough" talks on Friday to try to resolve a standoff over
disputed islands that has jarred a relationship long strained
by Japan's colonial rule of Korea last century.

The meeting came as Japanese law makers visited a war
shrine in Tokyo which South Korea and China see as a symbol of
Japan's past militarism.

South Korea has warned of "stern measures" if Japan presses
ahead with a plan to send survey ships to waters near the
desolate and rocky islands, which Koreans call Tokto and
Japanese call Takeshima.

The islands sit in rich fishing grounds and South Korea's
state gas firm says they lie above unexploited energy resources
potentially worth billions of dollars.

A small group of Korean protesters burned the Japanese flag
and pictures of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi,
chanting anti-Japan slogans at the visiting delegation.

Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi met his South
Korean counterpart, Yu Myung-hwan, for 90 minutes. The talks
were "tough" but would continue, Yachi was quoted by Kyodo news
agency as telling Japanese reporters.

A South Korean official said Seoul expected Yachi to convey
a pledge from Japan not to conduct the survey while the two
countries sought a diplomatic solution, Yonhap news agency

"We are trying to avert a physical confrontation, but we
can't run away from the problem," Yu was quoted as saying by

Tokyo has offered to call off the survey if South Korea
drops a plan to register Korean names for seabed areas near the
islands at a June international maritime conference.

The desolate islands are about the same distance from the
mainlands of the two countries and are controlled by South

In a show of force, Seoul has ordered its coast guard on
high alert and has sent 20 vessels to the disputed waters.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has said Seoul does not
view the survey as an isolated event but rather a part of
Tokyo's refusal to show contrition for harsh colonial rule over
the peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

In a move likely to further aggravate tension, nearly 100
Japanese law makers visited Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine on Friday.

The shrine honors convicted war criminals along with
Japan's 2.5 million war dead.

(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano, Teruaki Ueno and
Elaine Lies in TOKYO and Jon Herskovitz and Kim Kyung-hoon in