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S.Korean survey ships leaves disputed waters claimed by Japan
Move comes amid Tokyo demands to halt survey
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-05 23:41 (KST)   
TOKYO

A South Korean survey ship has moved out of Japanese-claimed waters near a group of disputed islets, Japan's coast guard said Wednesday, following strong protests from Tokyo.

The ship, which launched a maritime survey on Monday, entered waters early Wednesday that Japan says fall within its exclusive economic zone despite a demand from Tokyo that Seoul stop the operation.

The South Koreans were surveying the waters surrounding a group of rocky islets called Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in Korea, which lie roughly halfway between the two countries -- and over which they have a long-running ownership dispute.

South Korea said its surveyship has moved out of the Japanese claimed waters and is returning to South Korea due to bad weather.

The ship was expected to arrive Thursday afternoon at the southern port of Busan, and will complete the rest of the survey when weather conditions improve, said an official at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries on condition of anonymity due to office protocol.

The ship entered the Japanese-claimed waters at 6:41 a.m. Wednesday (2141 GMT Tuesday). It was intercepted by a Japanese patrol boat soon after.

Japan demanded that South Korea halt the operation, but the survey ship continued its work in the disputed waters.

"That South Korea carried out the maritime survey despite protest from Japan ... is extremely regrettable and we demand its immediate termination," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters Wednesday.

Abe added Japan was especially upset Seoul entered the disputed area amid a crisis over the North Korean missile launch.

Pyongyang test-launched a series of missiles including a long-range Taepodong on Wednesday. The missiles apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan.

South Korea, meanwhile, claimed the Japanese patrol boat had entered South Korean waters.

Japan also said it may resurrect plans -- canceled in April -- to conduct its own maritime survey in the disputed waters, which would further stoke regional tensions.

South Korea's Yonhap News agency reported that the survey was supposed to be completed Wednesday, but Kim Ok-soo, an official at the National Oceanographic Research Institute, said the survey will continue until July 17.

In Tokyo, Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Shotaro Yachi summoned the South Korean ambassador over the dispute. Kyodo News agency reported that the talks ended without a solution.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday urging Japan to seek South Korea's consent before conducting a survey, and expressing willingness to continue negotiations over the issue.

According to the Japanese coast guard, the Japanese patrol boat radioed the South Korean ship to stop its activities on Wednesday, but the vessel refused and headed toward the disputed islets.

The Japanese boat pursued the survey ship, which appeared to be escorted by a South Korean patrol ship, the coast guard said. The survey boat's crew radioed the Japanese to say it was surveying South Korean waters and should not be obstructed, the coast guard said.

Japan and South Korea have long sparred over ownership of the islets as part of a wider struggle to define their economic rights in the area.

In recent months, the neighbors have objected to each other's plans to survey the disputed waters, seeing such surveys as assertions of ownership.

Tensions flared in April when South Korea protested similar survey plans by Japan, sending gunboats to meet the Japanese survey fleet. Tokyo shelved the study after last-minute negotiations.
HIROKO TABUCHI
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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