Ex - Japanese Residents Fly To Russian - Held Islands

Ex-Japanese residents fly to Russian-held islands

Former Japanese residents of four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan have arrived in the territory to visit the graves of their ancestors.

A group of 67 people, including government officials, left Nakashibetsu Airport in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido for the islands by chartered Russian plane before 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Delegation leader Koyata Otsuka expressed hope the group will fully use the opportunity to pay respects to their relatives.

Some of the visitors were headed to the island of Kunashiri, while the rest were traveling to Etorofu. They will return to Nakashibetsu on Sunday after an overnight stay.

This is the third time that former residents on grave visits to the territory have traveled by air.

The flights are part of an agreement reached at a Japan-Russia summit in April 2017 to help ease the travel burden on the elderly visitors.

Foreign ministry officials say flying to Etorofu island is about 80 percent faster than going by ship.

The Japan-Russia agreement outlines plans for joint development activities on the islands. These include the grave visits and economic projects.

The government hopes such increased exchanges will help advance negotiations toward a Japan-Russia peace treaty that involves the territorial issue.

Russia controls the 4 islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains they are an inherent part of Japan's territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two.