• Kyodo

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A group of residents from Russian-held islands that are also claimed by Japan arrived Wednesday in Nemuro, eastern Hokkaido, on a visa-free visit.

This is the 11th year of bilateral tourist exchanges of this kind.

Japan and Russia agreed in 1992 to allow reciprocal visits to and from the disputed islands without the need for visas.

The 72 Russians are scheduled to visit parts of Hokkaido and other locations, including Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan, during the six-day visit.

They will meet Japanese families and hold discussions with local residents on territorial issues.

The disputed islands have become the focus of an alleged bid-rigging scandal involving Japanese lawmaker Muneo Suzuki.

The Foreign Ministry is reviewing projects on the islands in the wake of the scandal.

Group leader Igor Kovali said, “I know about the reports of scandals involving Suzuki, but assistance is very important for the islanders, who suffer from economic problems.”

Kovali said he hopes the Japanese aid projects will be resumed.

In this year’s 10 visa-free trips, a total of 635 Japanese will visit the islands and 535 Russians from the islands will visit Japan. The visit that began Wednesday is the first this year.

The islands were seized by Soviet Union troops at the end of World War II, and the ensuing territorial row has prevented the two nations from concluding a peace treaty.

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