• Kyodo

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A group of Russian residents of islands off Hokkaido arrived Thursday in Nemuro, eastern Hokkaido — the fifth Russian group to visit Japan this year under a visa-free exchange program.

The 67 visitors, led by Igorj Balkashin, are residents of four Russian islands also claimed by Japan — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets.

Before their departure Tuesday, the Russians will meet Sapporo University students and talk with residents of the city, Sapporo Municipal Government officials said.

They will also visit Japanese families in Sapporo and Nemuro, they said.

Two Japanese-language teachers dispatched to Etorofu on Sept. 14 by a group promoting exchanges between Japan and the islands returned to Japan with the group.

Under an agreement between Tokyo and Moscow, Japanese and Russian visitors to and from the four disputed islands do not require visas.

Visa-free visits have been conducted since 1992.

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