• JIJI, Kyodo


The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that a planned trial sightseeing tour to two Russian-held islands off Hokkaido had been postponed.

The eight-day tour, organized for Japanese citizens by the Japanese and Russian governments as part of the two countries’ joint economic activities on the disputed islands, had been scheduled to start Wednesday.

Russia asked the Japanese side on Tuesday to postpone the tour, according to the ministry. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Akihiro Nishimura declined to disclose further details at a news conference Wednesday, including why the visit was put off.

Despite the postponement, Japan will seek to set a new date for the tour “as soon as possible,” Nishimura said.

The latest development could affect bilateral negotiations on the territorial issue and the conclusion of an envisaged peace treaty, analysts said.

The two sides agreed to arrange such a tour at a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.

Tokyo had hoped to arrange a full-scale sightseeing tour to the islands for spring next year or later following the trial tour. Japan and Russia are expected to hold talks to reschedule the trial tour, according to the ministry.

Kunashiri and Etorofu, the two islands that had been on the trial tour route, are part of a group referred to in Japan as the Northern Territories. The group also includes Shikotan and the Habomai islets.

Some 50 participants in the trial tour, including members of the public and ministry officials, had been scheduled to first visit locations including Nemuro, a city in Hokkaido near the islands, on Wednesday and Thursday, and then Kunashiri for three days from Friday and Etorofu for two days from Monday. On the islands, they had been slated to visit a volcano and graves for Japanese people who died there, among other sites.

The four islands were seized from Japan by the former Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The territorial spat has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.

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