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Japan deports Hong Kong activists in Tiaoyutai row

2012/08/17 21:23:53

Tokyo, Aug. 17 (CNA) Seven of the 14 activists from Hong Kong who allegedly violated Japan's immigration law by landing on the disputed Tiaoyutai Islands in the East China Sea earlier this week were deported by air Friday, according to a Japanese TV report.

The seven activists, including five who made a rare landing on an outcrop of the Tiaoyutais Wednesday, boarded a Hong Kong-bound commercial flight at Naha Airport in Okinawa at 6:45 p.m. Friday, according to NHK, Japan's public broadcasting company.

The remaining seven also left Naha Airport aboard a Japanese Maritime Safety Agency aircraft for Ishigaki Airport at around the same time, the report said.

They were then to return to Hong Kong by sea aboard the boat -- the Kai Fung No. 2 -- that took the activists to the Tiaoyutais two days earlier, the report said.

The deportations ended an ordeal that had put Japan, Taiwan and China at loggerheads.

After the activists were arrested by Japanese Coast Guard officers Wednesday, the Kai Fung No. 2 was escorted to Japan's Ishigaki Port and handed over to Okinawa Prefecture police authorities.

China called for their rapid release but the Japanese deliberated over what to do with the five activists who set foot on the Tiaoyutais until Friday morning.

The police eventually decided not to turn them over to prosecutors and instead sent them to the Naha immigration office for deportation.

The nine other activists had already been sent to the immigration office Thursday evening to also be returned home, the report said.

The speedy deportation of the activists was seen as an effort by Japan to avoid ramping up regional tensions over the territorial spat.

The last time non-Japanese nationals went ashore the Tiaoyutais was in 2004, when seven mainland Chinese activists landed on an outcrop only to be later deported back to China.

Lying about 100 nautical miles off Taiwan's northeastern tip, the Tiaoyutais are currently controlled by Japan, but are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The waters around the Tiaoyutais were once Taiwan's traditional fishing grounds. The United States took control of the island group after World War II and handed them over to Japan, along with Okinawa, in 1972.

In Taipei, Deputy Foreign Minister Tung Kuoyu met with Sumio Tarui, Japan's top representative to Taiwan, Thursday to discuss the sovereignty disputes over the uninhabited Tiaoyutai Islands.

"We have expressed very clearly (at the meeting) that the Tiaoyutais are our inherent territory," Tung said at a press briefing Friday.

During Thursday's meeting with the Japanese envoy, Tung said he urged Japan to release the Hong Kong activists as soon as possible.

(By Yang Ming-chu and Sofia Wu)