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Japan to take S. Korea islands row to international court

Japan says it will take a territorial dispute with South Korea to the International Court of Justice. This comes a day after the South Korean president fueled tensions with a trip to the islands at the center of the row.

A spokesperson for Japan's foreign minister said in an e-mailed statement on Saturday that Tokyo would bring the dispute over the islands to the international court following what was described as an "unacceptable action" on the part of the South Korean president.

"Japan decided to act to peacefully solve the issue by bringing it to the International Court of Justice," the statement said.

It said that in view of the visit to the islands by President Lee Myung-bak, presenting Japan's position to the international community was "more important than holding back, giving consideration for the whole Japan-ROK [Republic of Korea] relations."

The action would be taken in the "not too distant future," the statement said.

Constant bone of contention

Lee on Friday raised Japan's ire by visiting the islands - known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea - which lie equidistant from the two mainlands and have been an ongoing source of tension between the two countries for decades. The islands, currently under Seoul's control, are thought to have rich frozen natural gas deposits.

Japan recalled its ambassador to South Korea on Friday, after Lee visited the disputed islands, the first South Korean leader to have done so. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda described Lee's trip as "extremely deplorable."

South Korean officials said the surprise visit was meant solely to underline the islands' importance as a natural reserve.

Relations between the two countries continue to be marred by historical disputes, despite close economic ties in recent times. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, something many Koreans still resent.

Japanmay find it hard to bring the issue to the court, as it requires an agreement between the disputing parties to make its ruling binding. In the past, South Korea has several times rejected Japanese proposals to let the court rule on the dispute.

tj/slk (Reuters, AFP)