Japan demands release of fishermen detained by Russia

Japan demands release of fishermen detained by Russia

Representative image. (AFP Photo)

Japan's foreign ministry has demanded the release of the crews of five fishing boats detained by Russia, saying they were doing nothing wrong and calling for their quick liberation on humanitarian grounds.

The seizure of the Japanese vessels the day before by Russian border guards near Russian-held islands claimed by Japan came while Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi is visiting Russia seeking to restart stalled negotiations over the islands and a formal peace treaty to end World War Two.

The ships were fishing for octopus near the four islands when they were taken by Russian ships for "investigations" on suspicion they had violated fishing agreements, Japanese media said.

But a Japanese foreign ministry official said the fishing crews had done nothing wrong.

"We have demanded their release as soon as possible on humanitarian grounds," he added.

A Japanese crab fishing boat was seized by Russia in late January this year, with its crew released a bit over a month later after paying a fine.

Japan claims the four Russian-held islands off Japan's northern region of Hokkaido, which it calls the Northern Territories. Known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles, the islands were invaded by the then-Soviet army in the waning days of World War Two.

The islands row has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty, but Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year that they sign an accord by year-end "without any pre-conditions".

Although Abe rejected that proposal, he vowed in January to push for a treaty. Progress has proved elusive, although senior officials and political leaders from both countries have since held talks on the issue.

Japanese media has reported that Motegi's current five-day visit to Moscow is aiming to restart negotiations.

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