August 15, 2006

Russian patrol boat fires on Japan boat

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese fisherman died after a Russian
patrol boat fired on a fishing boat on Wednesday, prompting
Japan to protest over what appeared to be the first fatality in
50 years in a territorial dispute.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said it had asked the Russian side
for details and that, if the fisherman had indeed been shot to
death, it 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.

A spokesman said Foreign Minister Taro Aso would call
Russia's acting ambassador to the ministry later on Wednesday
to reiterate Tokyo's protest. Earlier, a government source said
the Russian action appeared to have been excessive use of

Kyodo news service quoted Mikhail Galuzin, a diplomat at
the Russian embassy in Tokyo, as saying the border patrol had
fired after the boat defied an order to stop and had seized it
in Russian waters.

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

"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. Kyodo news service reported
that the fisherman was shot in the head.

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.