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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tokyo, Seoul end EEZ negotiations in a stalemate


Staff writer

Japan and South Korea ended two days of talks Tuesday still divided over the demarcation of their exclusive economic zones in the Sea of Japan but with an agreement to meet again in September in Seoul, Japanese officials said.

The South Koreans proposed a bigger EEZ for their country, drawing the boundary along the median line between the island of Okinoshima in Shimane Prefecture and the disputed islets under Seoul's control, according to the officials.

Tokyo's position is the boundary should be the median line between the disputed islets -- called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan -- and South Korea's Ullung Island, which lies 87.4 km west of the rocky outcroppings.

"There is a wide gap between their position and ours," Ichiro Komatsu, Japan's chief negotiator, said after the talks ended.

According to Komatsu, who is from the Foreign Ministry, the South Korean delegates said they had "no choice but to claim" a larger EEZ area using the rocky islets after the diplomatic row that erupted in April.

Japan had announced it would conduct a scientific survey in areas that included the disputed region. The trip was in response to Seoul's decision to ask an international body to give Korean names to the oceanic topography in the area.

South Korea reacted sharply, threatening to catch -- or even sink -- the Japanese vessels.

The situation eventually was defused with both sides putting their plans on hold.

South Korea previously had claimed the islets were "rocks" and as such could not be used to mark an EEZ under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Sea.

During this week's talks, Japan proposed that there be a system in place to give advance notice when one side plans a maritime survey in the disputed area.

The South Korean team refused to discuss the proposal, saying they did not have a mandate to discuss any issues other than the EEZ boundary.

Seoul is reportedly planning to conduct a maritime survey in the disputed area in July.

The Japanese side urged "self-restraint" to prevent another diplomatic row like the April incident, but the South Koreans again reportedly refused to respond.



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