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S Korea welcomes US decision over disputed islets

world Updated: Jul 31, 2008 08:54 IST
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South Korea on Thursday applauded a US decision to restore the status of a group of disputed islets, claimed by both Seoul and Tokyo, as territory belonging to South Korea.

"This is the result of South Korea-US alliance and trust having been restored," presidential spokesman Lee Dong-Kwan said in a statement.

"The exceptionally swift measure reflects President George W Bush's full understanding of the South Korean public sentiment and the deep trust and friendship between the leaders of the two countries."

Fueling a long-running dispute between South Korea and Japan, the US government's Board on Geographic Names recently changed its classification of the islets from a territory of South Korea to "undesignated sovereignty."

At Bush's instruction, the US board on Wednesday reversed its week-long decision and classified the islets back as a territory of South Korea.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-Soo had previously called the US board's move "very regrettable," while Seoul officials said President Lee Myung-Bak -- who will welcome Bush to South Korea next week -- was "outraged".

Bush will visit South Korea and Thailand ahead of attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8.

South Korea staged a military drill near the group of rocky and treeless islets, called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, on Wednesday, one day after the first-ever visit there by Han, to cement its claims over them.

The dispute flared again this month when Japan announced new education guidelines stressing its territorial claims to the islets.

Seoul has summoned its top envoy to Japan in protest.

The territorial row originates in Japan's 20th century imperial expansion and its colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

Japan claimed the islands in 1905 after winning a war with Russia. It went on to annex the entire Korean peninsula from 1910 until its defeat in 1945 at the end of World War II. Seoul now plans to make them livable for people.