Students head for Etorofu Island on visa-free exchange program

Students head for Etorofu Island on visa-free exchange program

SAPPORO, Aug. 10 Kyodo

A group of students from across Japan left Nemuro port in eastern Hokkaido on Friday for Russian-held Etorofu Island, kicking off a five-day visa-free visit to the disputed island for cultural exchanges.

Sixty-four members of the youth group, led by Yoshio Aoki, head of the Hokkaido Board of Education’s Nemuro District Office, left the port aboard a 334-ton passenger ship. The group, mostly junior high school and high school students, includes students from Miyagi, Shizuoka, Kyoto and Okinawa prefectures.

The youths will stay with Russian families living on the island off Hokkaido, visit elementary and junior high schools and play sports with their hosts during the visit.

Etorofu, as well as Shikotan and Kunashiri islands and the Habomai group of islets were occupied by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, and the dispute over their ownership has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty.

It is the fifth visa-free visit by a Japanese group to the disputed islands this year.

The visa-free exchange program was launched in 1992 to deepen mutual understanding between residents of the disputed islands and Japanese.

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