TOKYO, May 14. /TASS/. The first for this year trip for Japanese nationals on the program of visa-free trips to Russia’s Southern Kuril Islands which Japan claims as its Northern Territories has been cancelled, and new plans are not coordinated as of yet, a source from the organizing committee preparing the visit told Tass on Thursday.
"The Russian side has notified that it has not finished preparations to receive the participants in the trip," the source said. The trip was due to take place on May 19-22, and to include former residents of Southern Kurils, their relatives as well as some officials.
A program of bilateral visa-free trips for this year was approved at bilateral consultations in the Japanese Sapporo on March 19. The consultations also coordinated the lineup of the groups to visit the Kuril Islands and Japan this year.
The program for this year involves 309 Russian nationals and 520 Japanese, who are to travel in six Russian and nine Japanese groups. The trips were planned between May and September-October.
Such visa-free trips have been held since 1991. More than 8,000 residents of Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan islands have visited Japan, and more than 18,000 Japanese nationals visited the Southern Kuril Islands.
The dispute over the Kuril Islands is a dispute between Russia and Japan over sovereignty over the southernmost Kuril Islands. The disputed islands, which were occupied by Soviet forces during the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation at the end of World War II, are currently under Russian administration. However Japan has been disputing ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai islands for the past sixty years.
The positions of the two sides have not substantially changed since the 1956 Joint Declaration, and a permanent peace treaty between Japan and Russia still has not been concluded.