Russian defense minister visits disputed islands

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ITURUP ISLAND: Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Friday visited the disputed south Kuril Islands to inspect Russian troops deployed there, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Serdyukov visited the garrisons of the 18th Machine Gun and Artillery Division on Iturup and Kunashir islands and aboard a helicopter flew over Shikotan Island as well.

Japan expressed its regret over the visit of the Defense Minister and labeled it as a "bucket of cold water poured on us," as expressed by Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.

The Japanese official added that Russia should be working on improving the Russian-Japanese relations instead of harming them. Maehara also summoned Russian Ambassador Mikhail Bely to discuss the issue.

Prior to his visit to the islands claimed by Japan off Hokkaido, Serdyukov held a meeting with local military officials in Khabarovsk where the regional military headquarters are located.

After that, the minister visited regional military headquarters in Iturup Island. Serdyukov inspected the barracks and the division headquarters. He was then flown to Kunashir Island to inspect facilities and met relatives of the servicemen.

Finally, the Russian Defense Minister flew over Shikotan Island concluding his tour to the south Kuril Islands. Both Japan and Russia have claimed the islands since they were annexed by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

Last November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashir, the second-largest of the four islands, raising the tension between Russia and Japan. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the visit was very regrettable and fired its ambassador to Russia.

The dispute over the south Kuril Islands (or the Northern Territories as known in Japan) has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

(BNO NEWS )

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