Fri, May 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

South Korea to boost exploration near disputed isles

AP , SEOUL

South Korea announced a five-year plan yesterday to explore and develop resources in waters surrounding a string of disputed islets in a move to bolster its control over territory also claimed by Japan.

South Korea said it will spend about 34 billion won (US$36.4 million) until 2010 to explore and manage fisheries and mineral resources in waters around the islets, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. They lie roughly halfway between the two countries, and are currently controlled by Seoul.

"Dokdo is clearly our territory and a precious natural heritage," said Kang Moo-hyun, vice minister of maritime affairs and fisheries. "We need to give opportunities to both current and future generations to equally use Dokdo and share the benefits."

The plan, part of a law enacted last year, is aimed at "strengthening [South Korea's] effective control over Dokdo," the Maritime Ministry said in a statement.

The islets are at the center of a long-running dispute between the two countries, which flared anew last month when Japan said it would conduct a maritime survey in waters near the islets.

The area is a rich fishing ground believed to also have deposits of methane hydrate, a potential natural gas source.

As part of the plan announced yesterday, South Korea will conduct studies on fisheries as well as mineral resources in the area, the ministry said.

The country will also bolster monitoring of the ecosystem on and around the islets and upgrade facilities on the islets, where a small police detachment of some 30 is stationed, the ministry said.

Also yesterday, KT Corp, South Korea's main telecommunications company, started providing telephone service for the only civilian residents on the islets -- a 66-year-old South Korean man and his wife.

"We can now show to the whole world that Dokdo, where our country's phone service works, is clearly our land," the company said in a statement.

Until now, telephone service has been provided only to policemen guarding the area.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has vowed to defend the islets at all costs, following the latest spat over territorial claims.

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