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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 May 2006, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
S Korea plan for disputed islands
South Korean police officers stand guard on the Dokdo/Takeshima islands
The islands are small, but highly symbolic in S Korea-Japan relations
South Korea has announced a five-year plan to explore and develop a string of islands which are the source of a continuing dispute with Japan.

The $36.6m (19.8m) plan includes improving island facilities and exploring marine and mineral resources.

A Korean official said such activities would also be a "manifestation" of South Korea's control over the islands.

Last month the two countries narrowly avoided coming to blows after Japan sent boats to survey the islands.

The islands, which are called Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, sit in rich fishing grounds which may also contain extensive deposits of gas.

"Dokdo is clearly our territory and a precious natural heritage," Kang Moo-hyun, South Korea's vice minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, was quoted as saying.

Map showing disputed islands

"Properly maintaining the islands is significant in manifesting the nation's actual control of them," he said.

There were no reports of Japan's response to the plan.

The plan, envisaged to run until 2010, is part of a law enacted last year.

The details should have been made public in mid-April but the briefing was postponed amid heightened tensions between the two nations.

According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, the budget includes:

  • $10.6m to improve facilities on the islands, where a small police detachment of some 30 men is stationed
  • $8.3m to research ecological systems on the islands and surrounding waters
  • $7.3m to research marine resources, beginning this year, and to start exploring for mineral resources, in 2008.

Mr Kang declined to say whether the government intended to increase the islands' civilian population, which currently comprises just one married couple, Yonhap reported.

Confrontation

In addition to this plan, the foreign ministry in Seoul has tasked a 30-member team with bolstering South Korea's claims to the islands.

South Korea also despatched an additional patrol boat to the area, which will increase the number of ships guarding the islands to four.

Tensions over the islands are fuelled by lingering historical acrimony. The islands were annexed by Japan in 1905, followed by the Korean mainland in 1910, and were only relinquished on Japan's defeat in World War II.

South Korea accuses Japan of failing to repent for its colonial conduct, and the rivalry between the two nations repeatedly flares in open confrontation.




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