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Japan, Russia again agree on flights by ex-Northern Territories residents for grave visits

In this file photo dated September 23, 2017, a former resident offers a prayer in front of a grave on the island of Kunashiri in the Northern Territories. (Pool photo)

TOKYO -- The governments of Japan and Russia have largely agreed to let former residents of the Northern Territories, which Tokyo claims but which Moscow controls, visit their family graves by air this year again, the Mainichi has learned.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin are set to officially seal the deal in their summit in Moscow on May 26.

Former residents first flew to the Northern Territories for grave visits in September last year following an agreement in a bilateral summit in April. The Japanese government had requested air visits because they can be completed in a shorter time than visits by sea and thus are less physically demanding for aging former residents.

Under the current plan, former residents will fly to the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu to make grave visits. While Tokyo has called for making such flights permanent, Moscow regards them as a special measure. It is considered difficult for the two leaders to agree on making the visits permanent during their upcoming meeting.

In the summit, Abe and Putin will also discuss five joint economic projects including culturing marine products and raising greenhouse vegetables. One focal issue is whether the two sides can make headway on a "special framework" that would enable the two countries to shelve conflicting views on sovereignty of the islands while carrying out the joint projects.

The Northern Territories off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido consist of four islands that were occupied by the then Soviet army in the last days of World War II and have since been under Russian control. Tokyo has demanded their return for the last seven decades but has failed to win a compromise from Moscow.

(Japanese original by Muneyoshi Mitsuta, Political News Department)

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