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South Korean President Warns Japan Over Island Dispute


South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has accused Japan of clinging to what he called a "dark nostalgia" for its imperial past. In a television address, he warned if Japan did not relinquish its claims to a disputed set of islands, it would be endangering peace in East Asia.

Just days after last-minute diplomacy prevented a possible confrontation at sea between South Korean and Japanese vessels, South President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday issued a blunt warning to Tokyo.

In a nationally televised address, Mr. Roh warns Japan to stop insulting the sovereignty and pride of Koreans.

He was referring to recent Japanese moves to strengthen its claim to a group of tiny islands controlled by South Korea. Japan lost control of the islands, which it calls Takeshima and South Korea calls Dokdo, in 1945 at the end of its 35-year colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

President Roh says the islands are a symbol of South Korea's liberation and return to self-rule after World War II. He says by refusing to let go of its claim to the islands, Japan is still behaving like a colonial power.

Mr. Roh says South Korea will respond strongly and sternly to any physical provocation over the islands, regardless of the cost or sacrifice involved.

A physical confrontation became a possibility last week when Japan announced it would conduct an oceanographic survey near the islands.

After warning Japan to call off the survey, South Korea dispatched at least 20 coast guard vessels to the area, and said Tokyo would be responsible for any clash that ensued. Japan hastily sent a senior envoy for two days of talks. Those negotiations succeeded in producing an agreement to cancel the survey.

As part of that deal, South Korea agreed to delay plans to propose Korean names for ocean features in the disputed area. However, in Tuesday's address, President Roh asserted South Korea's right to eventually register those names.

In response to Mr. Roh's speech, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for a summit Tuesday between the two countries to smooth relations.

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