TOKYO, May 11. /TASS/. A group of 60 Japanese citizens, the first this year, embarked on a visa-free journey to Russia’s South Kuril Islands on Friday under the bilateral travel exchange program, the Kyodo news agency reported.
The visit will continue until May 14. The Japanese group is expected to return to the port of Nemuro in Japan’s Hokkaido province after visiting their relatives’ graves on the Kunashir Island.
The group is travelling by the Etopirika vessel allocated for visa-free trips.
Visa-free travels between Russia’s South Kuril Islands and Japan began in 1992 in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement aimed to improve mutual understanding between the two countries’ people. Since then, more than 8,000 residents of Russia’s Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan islands visited Japan, and more than 18,000 Japanese citizens visited Southern Kurils.
The agreement allows visa-free travel to Russia by former residents of South Kuril Islands, their family members, researchers, public activists and journalists.
Since the mid-20th century, Russia and Japan have been holding consultations in order to clinch a peace treaty as a follow-up to World War II. The South Kuril Islands issue remains the sticking point since after WWII the islands were handed over to the Soviet Union while Japan has laid claims to the four southern islands. In 1956, the two countries signed a common declaration on ending the state of war and restoring diplomatic and all other relations, however, a peace treaty has still not been reached. Moscow has stated many times that Russia’s sovereignty over the islands could not be questioned.