Kan reveals ire at annual rally for northern isles

by Masami Ito

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s November visit to Kunashiri Island was an “unforgivable outrage,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Monday at the annual government-sponsored rally in Tokyo to demand the return of territory seized by the Soviets at the end of World War II.

Medvedev’s trip was the first made by leader from Moscow to one of the four Russian-held islands, the return of which Kan called “an extremely important matter for Japan’s diplomacy.”

Like his predecessors, Kan meanwhile vowed to continue negotiating with Moscow to get the islands back.

Kan’s administration has been criticized from the opposition camp and the public about its handling of sensitive diplomatic problems. Medvedev’s trip last year kicked off a string of additional visits to the disputed islands by Russian ministers.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is set to visit Moscow later this week to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and discuss the deadlocked territorial dispute.

“For 65 years, (the islands) which are an integral part of our nation, have not been returned,” Maehara said at the same rally. “I would risk my political career to see the islands returned as soon as possible.”

The annual rally, held in Chiyoda Ward to commemorate “Northern Territories Day,” was attended by activists, former residents of the isles and lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties. In the 1855 Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation, concluded on Feb. 7, Japan and Russia confirmed the four islands are Japanese territory.

Soviet forces seized the islands of Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu and the Habomai islets at the end of World War II and later evicted their Japanese inhabitants. The dispute has kept Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal World War II peace treaty.

On Monday, Kan stressed the need to resolve the issue quickly because the former residents islanders are getting older. “Looking around, I notice many former island residents present today. But they are getting older and I have, once again, reaffirmed my strong intention to resolve the issue at all costs while the former residents are still well,” he said.