Japan's ambassador to return to South Korea

File photo: Masatoshi Muto, Japanese ambassador to South Korea Japan's Foreign Ministry has expressed confidence in Mr Muto

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Japan is to send its ambassador back to South Korea after recalling him amid a diplomatic row over disputed islands.

Masatoshi Muto was recalled earlier this month in protest against a surprise visit to the islands by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Both countries claim islands known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

Japan wants international arbitration over the islands, which are controlled by South Korea.

It formally proposed to settle the dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the third time, following previous proposals in 1954 and 1962.

But South Korea's Foreign Ministry declined the offer on Tuesday.

"Our stance is that there should not exist any territorial disputes over Dokdo because Dokdo is our territory," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan was quoted by Yonhap news agency as telling parliament. "Going to the ICJ is not worth consideration."

  • Known as Dokdo (Solitary islands) in Korea, Takeshima (Bamboo islands) in Japan
  • Also known as Liancourt rocks
  • Claimed by Japan and South Korea, but occupied by South Korea since 1954
  • Just 230,000 sq m in size
  • But surrounding waters valuable for their fishing

The islands, which are roughly equidistant from the two countries, are small but lie in fishing grounds which could also contain large gas deposits.

Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters in Tokyo that Mr Muto was "in a position to implement policies" for the country on the territorial dispute.

The row between the two countries has flared sporadically in recent years, amid lingering antipathy between the two nations over historical issues.

Mr Lee's visit on 10 August - the first by a South Korean president - was followed by relay swim by 40 South Koreans to the islands to mark the anniversary of the country's liberation from Japan in 1945.

On Wednesday, a man who rammed his truck against the gate of Japan's embassy in Seoul to protest against Japan's claim to the islands went on trial in Seoul, reports Kyodo news agency.

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