Free the fishermen - Japan’s call

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called for the release of three Japanese fishermen held on suspicion of poaching. He sought their freedom as Moscow talks began between Japanese and Russian officials.

These are also expected to touch on the dispute over Russia’s far-eastern Kuril islands. A fourth fisherman died in the incident from a stray warning bullet fired from a Russian patrol boat. Coastguard officials said this was the first time a Japanese fisherman had been shot dead in the area since 1956. Russia has expressed regret over the fisherman’s death but events have strained relations with Japan. In Moscow on a pre-planned visit, the secretary general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is using the opportunity to press Russian officials for the fishermen’s release. The Kuril Islands are banked by rich fishing waters and are said to possess lucrative offshore oil and natural gas reserves. Russia maintains the islands are an integral part of its territory. The Russian foreign ministry said linking the incident to the territorial dispute “can only cause perplexity.” Detention of the Japanese fisherman was unrelated to the territorial dispute and could complicate talks on the future status of the islands and fishing in the area, a statement said.