Russian military increases activity near disputed isles

Japan is closely monitoring stepped-up activity by Russia’s military near disputed islands, Japan’s chief spokesman said Thursday after Moscow said it would deploy new weapons to the area.

Relations between Japan and Russia have been clouded by a long-running dispute over the four islands, called the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

The former Soviet Union occupied the islands off northern Japan at the end of World War Two and the row has weighed on bilateral ties since, preventing the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty despite growing economic ties.

Japan is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China and the government’s handling of the spats has been heavily criticized at home, adding to a fall in Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s support ratings.

"Russian military activity near our country is increasing and we will continue to monitor this closely with interest," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

"We would like to deal with this based on the stance that the four islands are Japan’s territory and that we want to resolve the territorial issue and sign a peace treaty in accordance with existing agreements and statements."

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