Seoul lawmakers' trip to disputed isles irks Tokyo

SEOUL - A group of South Korean lawmakers yesterday visited an isolated set of islands at the centre of a territorial dispute with Japan - prompting an immediate protest from Tokyo.

Seventeen members of the parliamentary National Defence Committee flew to the Dokdo Islands (known as Takeshima in Japan) on military helicopters for a day-long visit, an aide to committee member Han Ki Ho said.

The trip - described as a government inspection session - was aimed at checking security measures around the islands, which are guarded by the South's coast guard, said the aide.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, who on Monday had urged the Seoul MPs to cancel their trip, said it was "extremely regrettable" that his call had gone unheeded.

"We strongly protest it, and we are urging South Korea to prevent future incidents," Mr Fujimura told a regular media briefing yesterday in Tokyo.

The islands, which lie between the two countries, are controlled by South Korea but claimed by both nations.

The longstanding row over ownership boiled over in August, when South Korean President Lee Myung Bak made a surprise visit to the islets.

Tokyo said the trip, the first ever by a South Korean president, was deliberately provocative.

Mr Lee said it was designed to press Japan to settle lingering colonial-era grievances, including the issue of Korean women being forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II.

Japan is embroiled in a separate row with China over a different set of disputed islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by Taiwan.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE