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1st northern territories flight for grave visits likely in mid-June

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri Shimbun The Japanese and Russian governments are finalizing a plan that will enable former residents of the northern territories to travel by airplane to the islands in mid-June to visit graves there, according to sources. The trip will be the first to use an airplane specifically for the purpose of visiting the graves.

The Japanese government has sounded out Moscow about allowing the one-day trip, which would include stops on Kunashiri Island and Etorofu Island, to occur on June 18.

The Japanese government will charter a Russian commercial aircraft for the visit. In the expected itinerary, the plane will depart from Nakashibetsu Airport in Hokkaido in the morning. It will then stop at Mendeleyevo Airport on Kunashiri Island to drop off some former island residents, and then fly to Yasniy Airport on Etorofu Island. On the return leg, the plane will stop at Mendeleyevo Airport to pick up the former islanders and then fly back to Nakashibetsu Airport. About 70 people, including government officials, are expected to participate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their April 27 summit meeting in Moscow to allow former residents to travel by airplane to the islands to make visits to graves without needing a visa.

This will be the second time visa-free visits to the northern territories by airplane have been allowed, and the first time since 2000. This will also be the first time people will visit the graves by airplane.

The Japanese government has kept a Sunday in mind so that it will be easier for former islanders and the families of their children and grandchildren to participate.

The government is also making arrangements to have the trip completed in a single day to reduce the physical burden placed on the former islanders, who are becoming increasingly elderly. It is possible that the visit will be postponed due to reasons such as poor weather.

Previous exchange projects involving the northern territories, including grave visits, basically involved traveling there and back by ship. In many cases, the former islanders were forced to spend one or more nights on a boat. The use of an aircraft is expected to reduce travel time and the burden placed on the former islanders. The Japanese and Russian governments plan to confirm entry and departure procedures and other details soon.

In a related move, the Japanese and Russian governments have agreed to increase the area in which entry and departure procedures for the northern territories are conducted on board ships.

These procedures are currently done on a ship off Kunashiri Island, but the governments are coordinating to allow the work to also be done off the coast of the Habomai islets from August.

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