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Sakhalin Coast Guard Will Free 2 Japanese Fishermen

Sakhalin's coast guard will release two of the three Japanese fishermen they have been holding since they seized a boat accused of illegal fishing -- an incident in which one crewmen was killed -- news agencies reported Tuesday.

The boat's captain is to remain in custody and could face trial on charges of violating the border and illegal fishing.

The decision to release the two crew members was made after the captain assumed all blame for the boat's purported violation of the Russian border, Interfax reported, citing a spokesman for the Sakhalin Island coast guard branch, Yevgeny Lazarev.

The two are expected to be transferred from a Russian coast guard boat to a Japanese vessel on Wednesday in Russian waters, Itar-Tass reported, citing Lazarev. Japan's Foreign Ministry also said the two would be released Wednesday.

A Russian coast guard boat fired what Russian authorities said were warning shots at the Japanese vessel on Aug. 16 off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido near a disputed group of islands held by Russia but claimed by Japan, killing one of the four men on board. The three others were detained in the incident.

Itar-Tass reported that the handover would take place during an expected meeting between leaders of the Russian regional border guard service and representatives of the Hokkaido department of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Also on Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Japanese ambassador on Monday to convey a "decisive protest" over what it said was the violation of Russian territorial waters near the disputed islands by 39 Japanese fishing boats on Sunday.

The Japanese boats ignored radio warnings but retreated when a Russian coast guard vessel approached, the ministry said in a statement. It said the incident could harm relations and complicate efforts to resolve fishing disputes.

© The Associated Press

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