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S. Korea holds drills around disputed islands, Japan protests

This undated photo shows a guard on one of the South Korea-controlled Dokdo islets, known in Japan as Takeshima. (Corbis/Getty/Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korea on Sunday began a two-day exercise to drill its defense of a pair of islets it controls in the Sea of Japan, its navy said, drawing an immediate protest from Japan which also claims the islands.

The drills got underway in the morning, with troops landing on the rocky islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, in the late afternoon, according to South Korean Defense Ministry officials.

It is the first time that the landing of the military on the islands during an exercise has been announced since December 2016, and the first in the current administration of President Moon Jae In.

With bilateral relations sinking to their lowest point in recent years amid rows over wartime history and trade policy, South Korea went ahead with the drill despite an earlier protest from Japan over the plan.

In a protest lodged Sunday through a diplomatic channel, Tokyo expressed its "deep regret" over the drill and "strongly urged" Seoul to bring the exercise to a halt, saying the islands are "an integral part of the territory of Japan."

South Korea conducts the drill twice a year, but this year's first exercise had been postponed from June to avoid worsening bilateral ties.

The drill came shortly after South Korea formally informed Japan on Friday of its decision to scrap a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact, another sign of deterioration in the relationship.

The exercise involves South Korean navy warships and air force aircraft as well as the marine corps. The country's Yonhap News Agency quoted a military official as saying the drill is being held on a larger scale than usual.

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