Sat, Dec 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Japan demands that Russia return northern islands

AFP , TOKYO

Japan yesterday held firm to its demand that Russia return all four disputed Pacific islands seized in 1945 after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was only prepared to return two of them.

"Japan is perplexed as to why [Russia] does not return the four islands," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said separately: "Our basic stance has remained the same."

Japan and Russia have yet to sign a treaty formally ending World War II amid Tokyo's demands for the return of the four Kuril islands which were seized by Soviet troops at the end of the war.

Putin said Thursday that Russia was offering to hand back two of the islands in exchange for signing a peace treaty -- as stipulated in a 1956 declaration that the two nations signed.

"If Japan has signed that declaration, why is it now raising the issue of four islands?" Putin said.

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