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Japan returns ambassador to S. Korea, calls island control 'illegal'

(Xinhua)

14:23, August 23, 2012

TOKYO, Aug. 22 (Xinhua) -- Japan will send its ambassador Masatoshi Muto back to South Korea one week after recalling him, as an ongoing territorial dispute heightens between Tokyo and Seoul over sovereignty of a chain of islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said on Wednesday.

The move comes just one day after Japan formally proposed to South Korea that the two countries take the territorial feud to the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) for arbitration.

Gemba told a news conference Wednesday that Ambassador Masatoshi Muto will return to Seoul later in the day to "resolve the dispute from inside South Korea." He added that Japan needed to express its unwavering position on the territorial issue from inside South Korea.

Japan's foreign minister also said that sending Muto back to Seoul was in line with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's policy to resolve the heightening feud by peaceful means and based on international law.

But Tokyo stiffened its rhetoric on the disputed islands, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, with Gemba saying in a parliamentary session earlier Wednesday that South Korea's control of the islets amounted to an illegal occupation.

"We are in a situation where we cannot exercise part of our jurisdiction because of South Korea," Gemba was quoted by local media as saying. "We can say this situation constitutes an illegal occupation."

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