Fisheries minister Tsutomu Takebe on Tuesday rejected Seoul’s demand that Tokyo provide alternate fishing venues if it maintains its ban on South Korean fishing operations in waters off the Sanriku region of northeastern Japan.

“Tokyo has no business to offer alternative fishing places to South Korea,” he told a regular news conference.

Japan last week imposed a ban on South Korea’s fishing operations off the Pacific coast areas of Aomori, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures — known collectively as the Sanriku region — in retaliation for Seoul’s agreement with Russia to fish around a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that Japan claims.

Takebe told reporters that Seoul has concluded the agreement with Russia, although it does recognize Japan’s stance over the disputed islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets.

“We will not allow South Korean fishing boats to operate in waters off the Sanriku region unless they abandon their plans to fish around the islands,” said Takebe, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

He also said the waters around the islands are within Japan’s exclusive economic zone and that it is regrettable that Moscow has allowed Seoul to fish in the area.

“We will persist in our efforts to seek the cancellation of the fishing agreement between the two nations,” he said.

The disputed islands were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.

On Monday, South Korea lodged a formal protest over Japan’s decision to bar its fishing boats from waters off the Sanriku region, demanding that Japan retract its decision.

Poultry flu virus fears

The agriculture ministry said Tuesday it will dispatch four experts to China on Wednesday to verify whether the avian flu virus has affected Chinese-raised poultry.

On June 7, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries imposed a ban on imports of Chinese poultry after South Korea discovered the presence of a bird flu virus in Chinese duck meat during its quarantine process.

The four experts will conduct a range of tests during their stay through July 7, the ministry said.

They will first seek to verify whether the avian flu virus has broken out on the Chinese mainland.

They will also investigate the hygiene conditions of domestic fowl and diagnostic techniques used by China to detect the presence of the avian flu virus in poultry produced on the mainland.

The experts will also investigate quarantine measures by Chinese authorities for poultry destined for export and import, they said.

In May, the Hong Kong government discovered the new H5N1 strain of bird flu and halted imports of live poultry from China. Hong Kong resumed imports of Chinese poultry earlier this month.

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