Ex - Residents Return From Russian - Held Islands

Ex-residents return from Russian-held islands

Former Japanese residents of four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan have returned to Hokkaido after visiting their ancestors' graves on the islands.

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

A group of 67 people took part in the third air trip to the islands.

They left on a chartered Russian plane from Nakashibetsu Airport on Saturday.

Some of the visitors went to the island of Kunashiri, while the rest traveled to Etorofu. Memorial services were held on both islands.

The former residents had not been able to visit the graves for five to six years, as coordination with Russia had failed.

The delegation's leader Koyata Otsuka, who grew up on Kunashiri, told reporters the weather was good, and the older visitors appreciated the much shorter trip by air.

A foreign ministry official, Hideki Uyama, accompanied the delegation. He says it is great they got to visit the graves this time, but there is no guarantee they will be able to do this in the future. He said his ministry will continue to negotiate with Russia while keeping in mind the ex-residents' requests.

Russia controls the four 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.