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Kunashiri residents and Russian officials visit Hokkaido ahead of joint waste project

Kyodo

Residents from Kunashiri, one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, visited Nemuro in eastern Hokkaido on Monday together with a group of Russian officials to learn about garbage processing.

The visit comes ahead of a planned joint investment project with Japan in the Northern Territories. Along with officials from Sakhalin, the residents are taking part in a five-day visit through Friday. Their itinerary includes visits to a waste recycling facility and an incineration plant.

The residents are making use a visa-free program between the two countries, according to a Russian source.

Japan and Russia are seeking to resolve a long-standing territorial dispute that has prevented the two from signing a postwar peace treaty. The two countries agreed in 2016 to start talks on joint economic activities on the disputed islands in the hope of building mutual trust.

The inspection tour is part of bilateral efforts to work on waste reduction, one of five areas identified under the joint initiative. Other areas also include aquaculture and tourism. Japan has offered to provide waste compression equipment to Russia, while the residents want a waste incinerator to be built, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sought to make a breakthrough on peace treaty negotiations when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, but little progress was made.

Instead, the two leaders agreed to promote joint economic activities on the disputed islands, which also include Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

A pilot tour is being arranged for Japanese tourists to visit Kunashiri and Etorofu from Oct. 11 to 16.

Tokyo maintains that the islands were illegally seized after its 1945 surrender in World War II. Moscow claims that it legitimately acquired them as a result of the war.

Earlier this month, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made his first visit since 2015 to Etorofu, despite a request from Tokyo to have the trip canceled, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.