Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi lodged a protest Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin for granting fishing rights to third countries in waters around disputed islands off Hokkaido, claiming Moscow has ignored Japan’s repeated requests not to allow fishing in the area.

Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka called Russian Ambassador Alexandre Panov to the Foreign Ministry and handed him a letter of protest from Koizumi to Putin. It says Japan regrets Russia’s action and cannot accept third countries fishing in the area.

Koizumi also expresses in the letter deep concern about the negative impact on overall bilateral ties and asks Putin to act in good faith.

Tanaka told Panov that Russia has virtually ignored Japan’s requests to date.

Earlier this month, Russia allowed North Korean and Ukrainian boats to fish for saury around the islands, which are claimed by Japan, after giving South Korean boats permission in June to do so.

“The situation has changed greatly since Russia admitted not only South Korea but other countries,” Tanaka told Panov. “Our repeated protests have not been understood, and have been ignored.”

In the letter, Koizumi says he is concerned that the granting of fishing rights — even after he met with Putin to discuss the matter in July during the Group of Eight summit in Italy — may adversely affect bilateral ties.

Panov said Russia hopes not to politicize the issue and is ready to send Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov separately to Japan, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Panov did not specify when the visits would take place, but Losyukov and his Japanese counterpart, Toshiyuki Takano, are scheduled to hold a regular deputy foreign ministerial meeting in autumn, either in Moscow or Tokyo, the official said.

Tanaka said she will also send Yasuo Saito, head of the Foreign Ministry’s European Affairs Bureau, to Russia early next month to discuss the issue.

The ministry official said that Taiwanese boats, which signed a contract with a private Ukrainian fishing firm, have also started fishing in the disputed waters but that North Korean boats are not fishing there yet.

Seoul demands permit

SEOUL (Kyodo) South Korea on Monday renewed a demand for Japan to allow South Korean boats to fish for saury in Pacific waters off the Sanriku region of northeastern Honshu.

Park Duk Bae, head of the Fishery Resources Department of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, told a news conference that Seoul will take countermeasures unless Japan issues an operational permit to South Korean boats by mid-October — the time the boats are usually allowed to start fishing in the Sanriku area.

In December, Japan gave written permission to South Korean fishermen to catch 9,000 tons of saury in the zone, starting Aug. 20.

But Tokyo invalidated the permit as South Koreans began fishing for saury on Aug. 1 near four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan. The islands lie off Hokkaido.

On Aug. 3, Seoul sent back the invalidated permit to the Japanese government and demanded Tokyo issue a fresh one not contingent on a halt to fishing off the disputed islands.

South Korea made the demand in a letter to Yoshiaki Watanabe, director general of the Fisheries Agency. Japan refused, citing the South Korean fishing near the Russian-held islands.

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