SEOUL, Aug. 1 (UPI) — South Korea denied entry to three Japanese lawmakers upon their arrival in Seoul, apparently to visit an island near two islets claimed by both countries.
Earlier, South Korea had informed Japan it would ban a planned visit by the lawmakers to Ulleung Island near the Dokdo islets.
After being denied entry at Seoul airport Monday, the lawmakers from Japan’s opposition Liberal Democratic Party refused to return home, even after being kept at an airport waiting room for more than 5 hours, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
The lawmakers were identified as Yoshitaka Shindo, Tomomi Inada and Masahisa Sato.
The three were expected to return to Japan on a later flight but details were not yet available, CNN reported.
The Japanese are claiming their country’s sovereignty over the disputed islets. Ulleung is about 56 miles west of the islets.
South Korea calls the islets Dokdo and Japan calls them Takeshima. The islets, in the Sea of Japan or the East Sea to the Koreans, are administered by South Korea.
Shindo told reporters the islets belong to Japan.
“However,” Shindo said, “we must discuss this issue as there is a difference in opinion between Japan and South Korea,” Yonhap reported.
He warned the denial of entry may provoke a diplomatic row between the nations.
“We’re not terrorists. I don’t understand on what basis they are claiming that we are a threat to South Korea’s safety. They should first hear the purpose of our trip,” Shindo was quoted as saying.
South Korea rejects Japanese claims, saying it regained control over all of the territory at the end of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea, a part of history that still evokes bitter memories among South Koreans.
South Korea’s Justice Ministry justified the entry ban, citing concerns about the lawmakers’ safety in the event of angry clashes.
About 400 people from local civic groups reportedly protested the lawmakers’ visit at the airport, with some burning photos of the legislators and tearing up the Japanese flag.