Japan deports Russian sailors from disputed island.
Japan on Monday deported three Russian sailors living on Russian-held Kunashiri Island off eastern Hokkaido after prosecutors released them without indicting them on charges of illegal entry to the country earlier this month.
Another Russian sailor from Nevelsk in Sakhalin was also released with the three and the four left Hanasaki port in Nemuro, eastern Hokkaido, for an unknown destination, immigration officials said. They are believed to have returned home.
The four sailors were arrested on May 7 on suspicion of illegal landing upon entering Hanasaki port aboard a Russian-registered cargo ship as they had not obtained permission to stay for rest and recreation. Such permission is usually issued to foreign sailors stopping at Japanese ports.
They were sent to the Kushiro District Public Prosecutors Office two days later.
Prosecutors said they released the four as they were supposed to stay in Japan only a short period of time and the main purpose of their stay was not illegal acts but shopping and other things.
But Ryotaro Oba, deputy chief prosecutor at the office, said that Japan's immigration laws apply to acts committed by foreigners coming from overseas, suggesting that the prosecutors' decision on the three Russians from Kunashiri Island was in line with Tokyo's claim that the island is Japanese territory.
Kunashiri is one of the four isles off eastern Hokkaido seized from Japan by Soviet troops at the end of World War II. The dispute over Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan islands and the Habomai group of islets is a major stumbling block preventing Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty.
In a similar case, prosecutors in February last year released two Russian sailors from Shikotan Island who had been arrested on suspicion of illegal entry. The immigration authorities did not deport them either at that time.
Shobi University professor Nobuyuki Sato, who is familiar with the territorial dispute, speculated that Japan avoided accusing the four of a minor offense so as not to trigger an uproar from residents of the isles that would adversely affect bilateral negotiations.