August 30, 2006

Russia returns two seized fishermen to Japan

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia returned to Japan on Wednesday
two sailors whose detention off its far eastern coast had
strained relations between the two countries.

Russia repeated its warning to Japanese boats not to fish
in what it considers its territorial waters.

Coastguards killed one crew member on the boat when trying
to seize it on August 16 for poaching. The captain and two
surviving crew members were detained.

After two weeks of diplomatic talks Russia handed over the
two crew members, but not the captain, the Russian Foreign
Ministry said in a statement.

The body of the dead sailor was returned earlier.

"Tough demands were again made to the Japanese side to
carry out their promise and take effective measures to prevent
poaching in Russia's territorial waters," the statement said.

Russian officials say the captain and the boat will remain
in Russia at least until an investigation is complete. They say
the captain is likely to face criminal charges.

Japan and Russia claim sovereignty over four islands known
as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles
in Russia.

Russia seized the islands in the final days of World War
Two and the sovereignty dispute has prevented the two countries
from signing a formal peace treaty.

The death of the Japanese fisherman was the first fatality
in 50 years and provoked a flurry of diplomatic protests from
both sides.

A Russian commission set up to examine the actions of the
coastguards said their use of weapons was justified as they
were acting in self-defense.

The Russian Foreign ministry on Tuesday said the number of
Japanese poachers operating off the coast had risen
dramatically and described their actions as "defiantly