April 22, 2006

S.Korea, Japan try to calm storm over disputed isles

SEOUL (Reuters) - Senior South Korean and Japanese
diplomats met for a second day on Saturday to try to end a row
over disputed islands that has hurt ties long strained by
Japan's colonial rule of Korea last century.

South Korea has warned of "stern measures" and a possible
high-seas showdown if Japan presses ahead with a plan to survey
waters near the desolate rocky islands called Tokto in Korean
and Takeshima in Japanese.

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.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has been
meeting Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi for more
than five hours at a hotel in central Seoul.

The talks follow sessions on Friday described as "tough" by
Tokyo where the two sides were unable to narrow differences on
how to defuse the latest standoff over the islands that sit
about the same distance from the mainlands of both countries.

Yachi said at Friday's meetings the survey was nothing more
than pure maritime research, but Yu rejected the explanation,
according to South Korean media reports.

North Korea, which has been harsh in its criticism of
Japan's colonial history, offered to work with the South to
defend the islands.

"Let the North and South work jointly to stop Japan's
distortion of history and scheming to rob Tokto," the North's
chief delegate to inter-Korea talks in Pyongyang was quoted as
saying on Saturday in South Korean pool reports from the venue.

South Korea has said Japan's plan to survey the waters
amounted to an attempt to claim rights to the islands it had
seized in colonial times and then returned after Japan's World
War Two defeat.

Seoul says the islands were among the first parts of its
territory seized by Japan when it began the process of annexing
and colonizing the peninsula a century ago.

Japan says its possession of the islands were well
established before its annexation of Korea and the 1951 San
Francisco peace treaty with Japan did not cover the disputed

(Additional reporting by You Sung-ho)