Sat, Mar 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

S Korea not calmed by Japan's statement in territorial dispute

AP , Seoul

South Korea yesterday spurned an attempt by Japan to calm emotions in an escalating territorial dispute over a string of barely habitable islets, as Tokyo warned traveling citizens to avoid protests in South Korea, where an activist set himself on fire over the spat.

South Korea's Coast Guard said it was reinforcing patrols around the islets, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, doubling the number of ships responsible for monitoring the area to six.

The long-simmering dispute erupted this week when a local Japanese assembly voted to designate a special day to commemorate Tokyo's claim to the islets between the two countries, drawing intense anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea. The move was symbolic, but the central Tokyo government has refused to repudiate the vote.

"What is important is that in the future, the Japanese government show actions, not words," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told senior officials from the governing Uri Party on Friday, the party said. His comment was in response to a statement late Thursday by the Japanese foreign minister that Tokyo accepts the pain it has caused in the past and has sympathy with Koreans' feelings.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Masan city council on Friday passed a resolution marking June 19 as "Daemado Day," the Korean name for Japan's Tshushima islands just off the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.

Some South Korean historians argue those islands -- considerably larger than Dokdo and home to 40,500 people -- were once controlled by Korea.

Tsushima city official Hideo Nejime said even though the islands border South Korea that they have been under Japanese control for centuries.US occupation forces kept them as part of Japan when Korean leaders claimed territorial rights after Japan's World War II defeat, he said.

"We have had close economic ties with South Korea, but throughout history we are part of Japan and there is no question about it," Nejime said.

The row could threaten a boom in Japanese travel to South Korea spawned in part by the massive popularity of a South Korean soap opera. Some 2 million Japanese went to South Korea in the first 10 months of last year, compared to 1.8 million who went in all of 2003. The Japanese Foreign Ministry said yesterday it issued a travel notice urging citizens to stay away from protests in South Korea, which it said were not expected to end soon.

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