UNDP starts eco-tourism survey on disputed isles

Kyodo

At Moscow’s request and with the aim of promoting eco-tourism at a nature reserve to draw Russian and foreign visitors, the United Nations Development Program has began a survey among residents of a Russian-held island off Hokkaido, sources said Friday.

In Tokyo, which claims sovereignty over the island and three others, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura refrained from saying whether the government will lodge a protest.

“Our stance remains the same, that what is most important is that Japan’s legal status not be harmed,” he said.

Japan has been urging its citizens not to travel to Kunashiri Island and surrounding islets on Russian visas as it will be tantamount to recognizing Moscow’s rule over them.

The Russian government has been promoting eco-tourism on the islands and commissioned the New York-based UNDP to handle the 20-item questionnaire, given its expertise in the field, sources said.

The survey, targeted mainly at tourism representatives on Kunashiri, began in mid-January to seek residents’ opinions about what kind of tourism could boost the island’s development and what obstacles are currently hindering it.

Based on the survey, UNDP-commissioned officials are expected to visit Kunashiri in late March to hold seminars for residents on promoting eco-tourism, the sources said.

According to the Kurilsky State Nature Reserve on Kunashiri, a total of 55 foreign visitors from 14 countries, including the United States, China and New Zealand, visited the reserve last year.

The UNDP currently runs about 60 projects in Russia on nature conservation and other development programs.

Kunashiri, along with the islands of Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, were seized by Soviet forces after Japan’s surrender in World War II. The row over the islands has prevented the two nations from signing a postwar peace treaty.