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Ex-islanders write letter to Putin on Northern Territories

NEMURO, Hokkaido -- Executives of a group comprising former residents of the Northern Territories on Dec. 15 thanked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for delivering a letter they wrote to visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin on their plight, while seeking an early resolution of the territorial dispute over the islands.

During a news conference in Nemuro, the members registered mixed reactions to talks between Abe and Putin in Yamaguchi Prefecture in western Japan. Some members hailed Abe for personally delivering their letter to Putin, while others were dissatisfied with the fact that the prime minister made little mention of the territorial issue -- the focal point of their concern -- in his remarks to the media after the summit talks.

In the news conference at the Northern Four Islands Exchange Center NIHORO, Kimio Waki, 75, president of the League of Residents of Chishima and Habomai Islands, pointed out that the average age of surviving former island residents is now over 81.

Waki said former residents wrote in their letter to Putin, "We don't have time," "We want to return to the islands," and "We want to go and return freely." He said it was signed by seven volunteers, adding that they welcomed the outcome of the first day of the Russo-Japanese summit during which Abe raised the issue of expanding visa-free visits by former islanders and visits to ancestors' graves.

Nemuro is the closest major Hokkaido city to the Russian-controlled islands and a starting point for protracted movements to achieve the return of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group to Japanese control. The islands are known as the Southern Kuril Islands in Russia.

The two governments, however, did not release any specific details about joint economic activities on the disputed islands after the first day of talks between Abe and Putin. Ryoichi Miyauchi, 73, head of the group's Nemuro branch, said, "Because Prime Minister Abe cited a special system, I thought Japan and Russia would set aside the territorial issue to implement them (the economic activities). If such activities are conducted under Russian law, it could abet its de facto rule (of the islands), and we cannot accept it."

Hirotoshi Kawata, 82, vice president of the league of former islanders, observed that Abe did not address the territorial problem at all in his remarks.

"He may announce something tomorrow (Dec. 16), but it was sad there was no discussion about settling the territorial problem," he said. Miyauchi also told reporters he wants the Japanese leader to negotiate tenaciously on the second and final day of the two-day summit talks with Putin.

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