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Lawmakers return from Kuril Islands, urge Japan to cease claims to Dokdo
INCHEON, May 25 (Yonhap) -- A group of South Korean lawmakers on Wednesday urged Japan to give up its claims to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo after returning from a trip to seek lessons from Russia's handling of a separate territorial dispute with Japan.

   Three lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) left Sunday for the disputed Kuril Islands in the West Pacific Ocean with permission from the Russian government, prompting Tokyo to express regret over the trip. Tokyo's top envoy to Seoul, Amb. Masatoshi Muto, visited South Korea's foreign ministry Tuesday to protest against the lawmakers' visit, according to a ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

   "Interpreting our visit to the Kuril Islands, with Russia's permission, as our recognition of Russia's sovereignty over the islands would be a farce," Rep. Moon Hak-jin told reporters at Incheon International Airport after returning from his four-day tour.

   "Telling politicians from a third country not to visit the Kuril Islands is a case of unreasonable logic from Japan's side," said Rep. Jang Sae-hwan, another member of the trio.

   Their visit came after Tokyo in March approved a set of new middle school textbooks referring to Dokdo as Japanese territory. The move reignited an uproar among South Koreans, who had led efforts to help the neighbor recover from the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

   "Arguing the right and wrong of South Korea's parliamentary politics can be regarded as an infringement of sovereignty," said Rep. Kang Chang-il, who chairs a special committee on Dokdo.

   The lawmakers also said the Dokdo issue was different from the dispute over the Kuril Islands, as the East Sea islets naturally belonged to Korea, while Russia took the Kuril Islands from Japan at the end of World War II. Tokyo's claims to Dokdo stem from its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula in 1910-45.

   "I expect the textbook issue to resurface in Japan this September," Kang said. "The special committee on Dokdo will expire next month, so I plan to suggest ways to make it permanent."

   The legislators also paid a visit to Koreans living in Sakhalin and Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, which served as the center for the Korean independence movement against Japanese rule. Historical documents show that Japan forced about 150,000 Koreans to work on Sakhalin Island in coal mines, pulp mills and other military facilities during World War II.

   hague@yna.co.kr
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