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Waters of Protest: Japanese boats made territorial claims to Russia

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs voiced protest to Japanese ambassador in Moscow due to the penetration of 39 Japanese fishing boats into Russia's maritime belt. The Ministry took the incident as provocation. The actions of Japanese fishermen were the response to the scandal with Kissin Maru vessel, the purpose of which is to show that Japan does not acknowledge that waters around Sakhalin and Kuril islands are Russia's maritime belt. Thus, another coil of tension winds off in clouded relations between Moscow and Tokyo. Japanese fishermen's demarche is probably not the last one - security measures to protect Russian embassy in Tokyo were stepped up yesterday.

Last Saturday 39 Japanese fishing boats illegally penetrated into Russia's maritime belt during the hour between 8 and 9 a.m. It happened near the islands Signalny and Anuchino of the Small Kuril ridge (Sakhalin region). Frontier ship of Sakhalin frontier-guard FSB team discovered the numerous trespassers on radars, and sailed to the scene of the event. However, frontier guards detained none of the trespasser boats. The latter escaped to Japanese territorial waters when they saw the frontier guards. Frontier department of FSB told Kommersant that Japanese provocation might be linked to events of August 16, 2006. On that day, Japanese fishing boat Kissin Maru trespassed the border, entered Russia's territorial waters near Signalny island, advancing by 7 kilometers into Russia's waters. Russian frontier guards managed to stop the boat only after they shot one Japanese fisherman dead.

The boat's captain Sakasita Naboru admitted he was poaching. However, Japan thinks the captain is giving confession being under physical and moral pressure of investigators. Tokyo regards the islands of the Small Kuril ridge as belonging to Japan and usurped by Soviet troops. Japanese mass media say that frontier guards did not have the right to shoot at fishermen, regardless of circumstances. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly demanded that all detained fishermen, together with the boat, be returned to Japan.

However, 318th military garrison prosecutor's office arrested the vessel Kissin Maru-31. Russian law allows the state to expropriate tools, equipment or other means of committing the crime belonging to the accused (Captain Naboru is suspected of trespassing state border and poaching, criminal cases against him have been initiated). Two fishermen from that boat - Kawamura Akiesi and Kamia Haruki -- are charged with violating the state border of Russia. They might be fined and evicted from Russia. The boat's fate will be decided during the trial of Sakasita Naboru. Regional prosecutor's office said the case will be passed over to court before September 7, 2006, the day when the period legally allowed for investigation expires. The Japanese captain might receive 2 years of imprisonment for each of the charges against him.

The fishermen scandal is developing against the background of escalating war of words between Moscow and Tokyo, which is acquiring more and more obvious political implication. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Japan regards the waters where the incident with Kissin Maru took place as its own. Meanwhile, Moscow makes stern declarations there is no territorial problem. According to Russian Foreign Ministry's declaration issued yesterday, the incident with mass trespassing of Russia's state border by Japanese boats is regarded as defiant provocation. Russia demands explanations from Japan. Moscow might also be expecting new provocations, this time on Japan's territory, so the security measures to protect Russian embassy in Tokyo were increased.

© Kommersant

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