- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

SEOUL (AP) — Japanese and South Korean negotiators raced yesterday to avert a clash over disputed islets as Seoul accused Tokyo of imperialistic ambitions and warned of a possible confrontation at sea.

Behind-the-scenes talks on a diplomatic solution came as tensions mounted over a Japanese plan to survey resource-rich waters near the islands, which are occupied by South Korea but claimed by Japan.

About 20 South Korean gunboats have been dispatched to the area in anticipation of the arrival of Japanese survey ships. The gunboats were scheduled to conduct high-seas seizure drills yesterday, but delayed the exercises due to bad weather.

Japan put its plans to conduct a survey on hold yesterday while negotiations continue, Kyodo news service reported from Tokyo.

Two Japan Coast Guard survey ships remain on standby, awaiting orders, after leaving port Wednesday afternoon.

Japan Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi was to leave for Seoul today to try to find a peaceful solution to the dispute, Kyodo reported.

In Seoul, the Foreign Ministry summoned the Japanese Embassy for talks, while warning of the possibility of a clash. Japan held the “key” to preventing conflict, ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said.

President Roh Moo-hyun has accused Tokyo of harboring imperialistic ambitions. Many South Koreans say the basis of Japan’s claim is its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The rocky outcroppings, called Dokdo by Koreans and Takeshima in Japan, are surrounded by rich fishing waters, and both countries claim the area as part of their exclusive economic zones. Korea Gas Corp. estimates that the area also has enough methane hydrate deposits to meet South Korean natural-gas demands for 30 years.

Hundreds of riot police guarded the Japanese Embassy in Seoul as demonstrators gathered, chanting, “Dokdo is our territory.” A dozen fishery workers later failed in an attempt to storm the compound.

The countries are also at odds over Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to a war shrine in Tokyo.

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