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Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi expressed displeasure Tuesday over a Japanese peace group’s plan to sail this summer to Russian-held Kunashiri Island, which is claimed by Japan.

“It is regrettable that the group announced the plan without responding to our requests after the (Foreign Ministry’s) Russian Division asked it for an explanation,” Kawaguchi said.

Peace Boat, a nongovernmental organization, announced Friday it plans to take some 500 people on a goodwill voyage in August to Kunashiri and have them stay at a facility dubbed “Muneo House,” which entered the limelight in connection with scandals involving lawmaker Muneo Suzuki.

The Russian Division director, Toyohisa Kozuki, immediately fired off a letter to Peace Boat, urging it to call off the trip because it goes against the government stance that Russia is illegally occupying Kunashiri and three other islands off Hokkaido. Soviet forces seized the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan and the Habomai islets from Japan near the end of World War II.

Kawaguchi also denied reported claims by Peace Boat members that the ministry is trying to pressure the group from going through with the trip.

“The nature of the problem is completely different. The matter has to do with the government’s views on the (disputed islands), and we are asking people not to enter the area until this issue is resolved,” Kawaguchi said.

A 1989 Cabinet decision urged Japanese not to seek visas from then Soviet authorities to visit the islands because this could be taken as an endorsement of Moscow’s sovereignty over them.

As an exception, Tokyo and Moscow agreed in 1992 to launch a visa-free exchange program aimed at promoting ties between Japanese, mainly former residents of the islands, and their Russian inhabitants.

The territorial dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty.

Muneo House, formally called the House of Friendship, doubles as an accommodations and evacuation facility.

It was built in 1999 in a Japanese government-funded aid project whose bidding process was partially influenced by Suzuki.

The House of Representatives lawmaker elected from Hokkaido came under attack for having been excessively involved in Foreign Ministry affairs, especially humanitarian aid projects involving the islands.

One of the founders of Peace Boat is Kiyomi Tsujimoto, who recently resigned as a Lower House member due to a money scandal involving her secretary. She led attacks on Suzuki in Diet sessions in connection with his scandals.

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