Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

South Korea, Japan to hold talks on islets that both claim

AP , SEOUL

South Korea and Japan will hold talks next week on setting their maritime borders around a set of rocky islets that have been at the center of a long-standing territorial dispute, South Korea's top diplomat said yesterday.

Officials will hold the talks -- the second such meeting this year -- on Monday and Tuesday in Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said.

South Korea effectively controls the islets -- called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese -- that are also claimed by Japan.

Both sides want the islets, which lie roughly halfway between the two countries, as a basis to claim exclusive rights over the rich fishing grounds and possible deposits of methane hydrate in the area, which can be used to produce natural gas.

The last round of talks in June ended without an agreement.

The feud over the islets is just one of many issues ruffling relations between the neighbors. South Korea has strongly criticized Japanese officials' visits to a Tokyo war shrine and say some Japanese school textbooks glorify its wartime atrocities.

"No action can also be a solution to problems," Ban told a press club in Seoul yesterday, warning Japan against taking any action that could provoke South Koreans, who still harbor deep-rooted bitterness over Japan's colonial rule.

"Japan holds the key to the problem," Ban said.

"Depending on how it chooses to act, the problem can be solved even today or tomorrow," he said.

The territorial row flared anew in April when Japan announced plans to survey the waters near the islets. South Korea dispatching more than 20 gunboats in response. A high-seas showdown was averted when Japan canceled the plans after a last-minute compromise.

In July, South Korea conducted its own survey in the disputed waters, defying Japan's protests.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, coastal nations can claim an economic zone extending 200 nautical miles (370km) from their shores.

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