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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) Three Japanese men Saturday defied government guidance by traveling to one of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido on Russian visas.

The government’s position is that traveling under such terms implies Japan recognizes Moscow’s jurisdiction over the islands, which Tokyo lost during the war and wants returned.

One of the men who went to Kunashiri Island admitted knowing of the government’s request to refrain from using Russian visas but said he has gone there repeatedly nonetheless.

The three, who were wearing surgical masks and appeared to be in their 50s and 60s, are believed to be involved in the fisheries industry in Nemuro, Hokkaido.

“It’s quite regrettable,” Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara told reporters in Tokyo early Sunday.

“We will give them a stern warning as soon as they return to Japan.”

The men flew to Kunashiri on Saturday afternoon from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the capital of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East, and are expected to leave Tuesday.

“I know about the request that we refrain” from making visits on Russian visas, said the man by phone.

“I have been here repeatedly.”

The four disputed islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — were seized by the Soviet Union shortly after Japan’s surrender in World War II.

The territorial row has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a postwar peace treaty, with Japan calling for the return of the islands.

Last November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Kunashiri, becoming the first leader from Moscow to set foot on any of the disputed islands.

Moscow has since intensified efforts to make apparent its control of the islands with visits by other Russian officials to the region.

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