On Saturday morning, border guards noticed 11 Japanese schooners drifting in the neutral area that divides Russian and Japanese waters.
Unexpectedly, the boats cut the neutral line and sailed deeply into the Russian waters, coming as near as 5 to 7 miles to the island of Kunashir, one of the four disputed Kuril Islands.
Having sailed into Russian waters for more than a mile, the schooners suddenly stopped and continued drifting.
A Russian patrol boat immediately sailed out from a nearby port sending a warning to intruders that urged them to swiftly sail back. Within an hour, the whole group of boats was out of the Russian waters.
However, the fishing boats did not return to Japan's waters, remaining in the neutral zone instead.
Following the incident, the Russian command filed official complaints to the Japanese Consulate General in Vladivostok, as well as to the chief of Japan's regional Maritime Security body.
Russian authorities have branded the incident as a provocation intending to undermine efforts to clinch an agreement over the future of the Kuril Islands.
Moscow and Tokyo have been fighting for decades over the four islands that the Soviet Union captured in the last days of World War II.
Japan has set Moscow's return of the four islands as a condition for signing a peace agreement officially ending wartime hostilities.
Russia, in turn, has so far expressed only vague readiness to discuss giving back the islands, arguing that teams of legal experts should revise earlier treaties before signing a final agreement.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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