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Japan Hopes for Quick Return of Body of Fisherman Shot by Russian Patrol


A Japan Coast Guard vessel is reported to be on its way to a Russian island to retrieve the body of a Japanese fisherman killed by a Russian maritime patrol in the southern Kuril islands earlier in the week. The clash occured in waters that are part of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow.

Japanese officials say bad weather, not a diplomatic impasse, is preventing the quick handover of the remains of a fisherman killed by Russia's maritime border patrol in waters claimed by both nations.

Japanese media on Friday reported a Japan Coast Guard vessel was traveling to Russian territory, but the transfer of the body of 35-year-old Mitsuhiro Morita could be delayed because of poor weather conditions in the Northern Pacific.

Japan has placed diplomatic pressure on Moscow for an apology and the immediate release of the body. Morita was shot in the head Wednesday when the Japanese crab fishing boat he was aboard came under fire by the Russians. Three other men on the Japanese boat were taken into custody by the Russian patrol.

Vice Foreign Minister Akiko Yamanaka told reporters in the northern Japanese fishing port of Nemuro Friday that discussions on the matter have been proceeding smoothly. Yamanaka says she expects to retrieve Morita's body shortly, and to negotiate for the release of the three surviving fishermen.

Russian media report that the three are being questioned on possible poaching charges.

Russian officials say the Japanese vessel had illegally been catching crab in Russian waters, and warning shots were fired only after the boat tried to escape.

Under an agreement between the two countries, Japanese fishing boats must have permission from Russia to fish in the waters Russia claims as its territory.

The shooting of the Japanese fisherman marked the first time in half a century that such a clash between Russian patrols and Japanese fishermen has resulted in death.

The southern Kurils, controlled by Russia, are claimed by Japan as its Northern Territories. Japan has demanded the return of the four small island groups, which were seized by Soviet Russia in the waning days of World War II, 61 years ago this month. The impasse between Moscow and Tokyo has prevented the two countries from signing a treaty formally ending hostilities.