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Muneo Suzuki, director general of the Hokkaido and Okinawa development agencies, will visit Kunashiri Island June 23 to 25, becoming the first state minister to visit the disputed Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Ministry officials said Friday.

The visit comes amid improving ties between Japan and Russia, the officials said. Suzuki will be accompanied by two energy experts who will conduct a preliminary study there on using diesel electric-power generators from Japan, they said.

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and President Boris Yeltsin agreed on Japan’s offer to bring generators to the disputed islands, during an informal summit in April in Kawana, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Russia took the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets from Japan at the end of World War II. The dispute over who should own them has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty to formally end the war.

Hashimoto and Yeltsin agreed in November to promote efforts to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2000.

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