August 18, 2006

Russia hands over fisherman’s body after shooting

TOKYO (Reuters) - Russia on Saturday handed over the body
of a Japanese fisherman killed when one of its patrol boats
shot at a crabbing vessel in disputed waters between the two
countries, the Japanese foreign ministry said.

Russia has expressed regret over Wednesday's incident,
which was the first fatality in the decades-old territorial
dispute in 50 years, but blamed the death on the Japanese side
for intruding into Russian waters.

A Japanese foreign ministry official was accompanying the
body of Mitsuhiro Morita, 35, to a Japanese coast guard vessel
docked on Kunashiri island for the return journey to Japan's
northern island of Hokkaido, the foreign ministry said in a

She also held a brief meeting with the three surviving
members of the fishing boat's crew, who have been detained
since the shooting. A senior Japanese official said on Friday
after talks in Moscow that Russia had promised to make "maximum
effort" to free the three.

A Russian prosecutor on the island of Sakhalin has said
only the Japanese captain will be charged with illegally
fishing and entering Russian waters, Kyodo news agency said.

Japan and Russia both claim sovereignty over four islands,
known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern
Kuriles in Russia. The islands are currently controlled by

The feud has prevented the two countries 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 in the waning days of
World War Two, 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 Japanes fishermen. But the last
time a Japanese fisherman was shot dead was in October 1956 by
a Soviet vessel, Japanese officials said.