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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Neo-Soviet Russia Fires on Japanese Fishing Boat, Kills Fisherman

Welcome to Cold War II, oh land of the rising sun! The Yomiyuri Shimbun reports (can you imagine -- do you dare -- what Russians would say if the U.S. shot and killed a Russian fisherman? Would they say "oh we understand, he probably crossed the invisible line"):

SAPPORO, Japan - A Russian Border Coast Guard patrol vessel fired at a Japanese fishing boat out of Nemuro, Hokkaido, Wednesday morning near Kaigarajima island - part of the disputed Russian-controlled northern territories - killing one of the fishermen on board, coast guard authorities said. The shooting took place after the fishing boat allegedly sailed outside the authorized fishing area.

According to the First Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Otaru, Hokkaido, the fishing boat Kisshin Maru No. 31, belonging to a Nemuro fishing cooperative, and its three remaining crew members were seized and taken to Furukamappu, Kunashiri Island, for questioning. The other fishermen on board the Kisshin Maru have been confirmed safe.

The Japanese government set up a liaison office at the Prime Minister's Office, collecting information through the Consulate General at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in Russia. According to the Hokkaido prefectural government, the Kisshin Maru is entitled to fish for crabs, but cannot go near Kaigarajima island to collect konbu seaweed without permission from the Hokkaido governor. The Hokkaido government suspects the boat may have violated this regulation.

Aboard were Capt. Noboru Sakashita, 59, the head of the Nemuro fishing cooperative; Akiyoshi Kawamura, 29; Mitsuhiro Morita, 35; and Haruki Kamiya, 25. Morita is reported to have been killed, said the coast guard headquarters.

According to the Consulate General in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the Russian Border Coast Guard's Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk branch contacted the consulate at about 8 a.m. Wednesday, to alert it to the presence of the Kisshin Maru in waters near Akiyurito island. The Kisshin Maru reportedly ignored orders to stop and attempted to escape. The patrol vessel is said to have fired several flares that failed to stop the Kisshin Maru, before Russian coast guard personnel opened fire with machine guns from a dinghy.

Japan Coast Guard headquarters sent the patrol boats Saroma and Kawagiri to the site to gather information. The deputy director of the Russian Border Coast Guard's Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk branch, Mikhail Shevchenko, told The Yomiuri Shimbun: ''A boat of unknown nationality did not comply with orders to stop, so we fired warning shots. It was reportedly a Japanese boat, but had no signs or lights.''

According to Shevchenko, the incident occurred at about 4 a.m. near Suishoto island. ''Not only did the boat not comply with the order to stop, but it rammed our patrol boat. We fired in front of, behind and above the boat, but not toward its body,'' he said. On Wednesday morning, the Director of Foreign Ministry's European Affairs Bureau Chikahito Harada called Mikhail Galuzin, the acting Russian ambassador to Japan, to the ministry and protested.

Harada reportedly said to Galuzin: ''A Japanese fishing boat was attacked by Russia in (Japanese-claimed) territory. It's unacceptable.'' He demanded that the fishermen in custody be released at once and that such an incident never occur again. Galuzin said the claims would be passed on to Moscow and that the condition of the fishermen would be confirmed immediately, according to sources.

According to the Japan Coast Guard, there have been 39 shooting cases in waters near the northern territories - known as the Kuril Islands in Russia - from 1950 to 2000. Only one incident proved fatal, with the death of an individual in October 1956. As the area contains abundant marine resources including crabs, urchins, and flatfish, many fishermen have tried to fish the area, even at risk of being seized by Russian authorities.

In an effort to avert confrontation, the Japanese government set up a median line in the waters between the Nemuro Peninsula and the northern territories, and fishing boats that cross the line without proper permission are subject to control.

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