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Official Says Russia to Reduce Forces in Kurile Islands

Moscow, July 10 (RFE/RL) -- Itar-Tass quotes Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Panov today as saying that Russia will cut its military forces in the South Kurile islands and prepare for joint economic activity there with Japan.

The Islands are the site of a long-simmering territorial dispute between Japan and Russia.

Itar-Tass quotes Panov as saying his government is acting, in his words, "in the framework of promoting trust between the two countries." He said that the reelection of Boris Yeltsin had given Japan greater confidence in Russian stability and had created better prospects for business cooperation there.

During a visit to Moscow by Japanese Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda last March, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said Russia was trying to demilitarize the four islands involved.

Primakov told Ikeda there were approximately 3,500 Russian troops on three of the islands and none on the fourth, down from some 7,000 troops in 1992. The islands, claimed by Tokyo, were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War Two.