South Korea announces plan to manage resources

South Korea on Thursday announced a five-year plan to explore and develop resources in waters surrounding a string of disputed islets in a move to bolster its control over territory also claimed by Japan.

South Korea said it will spend about 34 billion won (US$36.4 million; euro28.8 million) until 2010 to explore and manage fisheries and mineral resources in waters around the islets, called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese.

They lie roughly halfway between the two countries, and are currently controlled by South Korea.

"Dokdo is clearly our territory and a precious natural heritage," said Kang Moo-hyun, vice minister of maritime affairs and fisheries. "We need to give opportunities to both current and future generations to equally use Dokdo and share the benefits."

The plan, part of a law enacted last year, is aimed at "strengthening (South Korea's) effective control over Dokdo," the Maritime Ministry said in a statement.

The islets are at the center of a long-running dispute between South Korea and Japan, which flared anew last month when Japan said it would conduct a maritime survey in waters near the islets.

The area is a rich fishing ground believed to also have deposits of methane hydrate, a potential natural gas source.

As part of the plan announced Thursday, South Korea will conduct studies on fisheries as well as mineral resources in the area, the ministry said, without elaborating.

The country will also bolster monitoring of the ecosystem on and around the islets and upgrade facilities on the islets, where a small police detachment of some 30 is stationed, the ministry said.

Also Thursday, KT Corp., South Korea's main telecommunications company, started providing telephone service for the only civilian residents on the islets, a 66-year-old South Korean man and his wife, reports the AP.

I.L.