Reports: Russian says he swam to Japan, wants asylum

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FILE - This Dec. 15, 2016, file photo, shows Kunashiri Island, one of four southern Kuril islands which Japan calls the Northern Territories, seen from the Notsuke Peninsula in Betsukai in Japan's northernmost major island of Hokkaido. A Russian man from the Russian-held Kunashiri island, claimed by both Tokyo and Moscow, is seeking asylum after being found in a wetsuit on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, media reports and officials said Wednesday. (Yoshiaki Sakamoto/Kyodo News via AP, File)

TOKYO (AP) — A Russian man from a Russian-held island claimed by both Tokyo and Moscow is seeking asylum after being found in a wetsuit on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, media reports and officials said Wednesday.

The man was found in the town of Shibetsu on the coast of Hokkaido across from Kunashiri island, one of four Russian-held islands claimed by both countries, Japanese media said. He said he swam about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Hokkaido to seek asylum, the reports said.

The man was wearing a wetsuit when he was found by a local resident last Thursday, the reports said. The regional immigration office in Sapporo said Wednesday that he is being interviewed by immigration officials following an initial investigation by police to determine whether he is eligible for a temporary landing permit or refugee status, or is subject to repatriation.

The immigration office declined to provide his identity and other details, including how he arrived in Hokkaido.

In a Facebook statement earlier this week, the Russian Embassy in Japan sought an explanation from Japanese authorities of the status of the man, whom it identified as V.-F.V. Nokarde.

Japan claims the four islands, which it calls the Northern Territories. The Soviet Union seized them in the final days of World War II, and the dispute has kept the countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their war hostilities.

Decades of diplomatic efforts to negotiate a settlement haven’t produced any tangible results.

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This article corrects the spelling of the island to Kunashiri instead of Kuhashiri.

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