• Kyodo

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Former Japanese residents of disputed islands off Hokkaido left Saturday for an annual visit to the Russian-held isles as the two countries struggle to address the long-standing row.

The first group of this year’s visitors, made up of some 60 former residents and their families, left the northern Hokkaido city of Nemuro by boat. They will see the remains of their old homes and other places on one of the islands, Etorofu, before returning to Nemuro on Monday, organizers said.

The trip, which comes as both countries are promoting exchanges between the former and current residents of the islands by allowing visa-free visits, had originally been scheduled for mid-May before being canceled due to a delay in Russia’s internal arrangements, the Japanese government said earlier.

This time, the departure was delayed from Friday due to bad weather.

Japan and Russia have been negotiating an end to their territorial dispute involving four islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets — that Russia took control of at the end of World War II. The dispute has prevented the countries from signing a formal peace treaty.