Japanese fishermen to be released by Russia

Russian authorities confirmed their intention to release the Japanese fishermen whom they have ben holding since their arrest a few weeks ago. The incident had to do with illegal fishing and left one man dead, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.

The fishing boat's captain has assumed all blame for its alleged violation of the Russian border, and a plan to return the other two crewmen to Japan will be worked out within two days, Interfax reported, citing a spokesman for the coast guard service branch on Sakhalin island, Yevgeny Lazarev.

"Most likely, a Japanese coast guard patrol boat will approach Russian territory and the fishermen will get on it there," the agency quoted Lazarev as saying.

A Russian coast guard boat fired what Russian authorities said were warning shots at the Japanese vessel on Aug. 16 off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, near a disputed group of islands held by Russia but claimed by Japan, killing one of the four men aboard, AP reports.

The death and the detentions sparked anger in Japan, where Foreign Minister Taro Aso repeated a demand for the release of the three detainees in a telephone conversation on Monday with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

Aso said the incident would "adversely affect" bilateral relations unless Russian authorities swiftly release the three fishermen. Lavrov expressed regret over the slaying but urged Tokyo to take measures to prevent fishing vessels from operating in Russian-controlled waters.

On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the Japanese ambassador a day earlier to convey a "decisive protest" over what it said was the violation of Russian territorial waters near the disputed islands by 39 Japanese fishing boats on Sunday.

The Japanese boats ignored radioed warnings but retreated when a Russian coast guard vessel approached, the ministry said in a statement. It said the incident could harm relations and complicate efforts to resolve disputes over fishing.

A separate Russian Foreign Ministry statement Monday said all responsibility lay with the boat's captain. According to Interfax, Lazarev said materials in the case against the captain would be delivered to prosecutors Wednesday for further action.

Reached by phone by The Associated Press, Lazarev said he was not authorized to speak to foreign or national-level Russian media - only to local media - and referred the call to the Moscow headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which is responsible for the coast guards and border guard services.

A Federal Security Service spokesman said he could not immediately confirm the report.

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