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S Korea to spend 37 mln dollars on disputed islands

By Staff
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SEOUL, May 4 (Reuters) South Korea will spend 37 million dollars in the next five years to better manage rocky islands it occupies that are at the centre of a territorial dispute with Japan.

The move could anger Japan, which also claims territorial rights to the islands, which are called Tokto in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese and lie almost midway between the mainlands of the two countries.

The islands sit in rich fishing grounds, and Seoul's state gas firm says they lie above unexploited gas hydrate deposits potentially worth billions of dollars.

''Tokto is our land,'' Vice Minister of Maritime Affairs Kang Moo-hyun said in a televised briefing on the project.

He said Seoul would spend about 7.8 billion won as part of the project for the conservation of the natural resources near the islands and about 10 billion won to make the islands more accessible. The rest of the money will be spent on managing fisheries and administration.

''The progress of the project will be reviewed every two years for feedback so that we can do our best for the effective management of Tokto,'' Kang said.

The project also involves exploration of mining resources starting in 2008 and developing fisheries near the islands.

South Korea's plans come after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said last week Seoul would never let up on efforts to control the islands.

A recent diplomatic spat over the rocky outcrops pushed the two countries to the brink of a high-seas showdown.

Seoul sees Tokyo's claim to the islands as originating from its 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. As long as Tokyo fails to properly address its militarist past, it would be impossible for the two to have friendly ties, Seoul has said.

In a deal that averted the showdown, Seoul and Tokyo agreed that Japan would recall survey ships from the waters near the islands while Seoul will put off a plan to register Korean names for underwater geography at a June international conference.

Reuters KD GC1155

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