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Russian residents of disputed islands make first visa-free trip to Japan this year

Kyodo

Around 60 Russian residents of disputed islands off Hokkaido arrived Thursday in Nemuro on the first visa-free tour of 2018 under a bilateral exchange program.

According to the tour organizer, participants — including teenage students and teachers from the islands, which are claimed by Japan — are scheduled to visit Hiroshima Prefecture, where they will meet with local students.

They will also visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, where there is a cenotaph commemorating victims of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing, and Miyajima island, famous for Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Russian party will also tour Nemuro before returning home Tuesday.

“I hope our students will learn in Hiroshima about what the war brought about and how we should secure peace,” said Tatiana Pavlukevich, the 49-year-old group leader.

The visa-free program began in 1992 as part of efforts to promote relations between present and former residents of the disputed islands and deepen mutual understanding.

Tokyo and Moscow are locked in a long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the islands off Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — which were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.