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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Jails 3 Japanese For Fishing in Kurils

TOKYO -- Three Japanese fishermen caught by Russian authorities in disputed waters earlier this year have been sentenced to 15 months in prison for poaching, Japan's Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.

Sentenced were Masanori Sawada, Kinzo Kubota and Noriaki Terasawa, the captains of three vessels found operating in waters off the southern Kuril islands, which are claimed by both Russia and Japan.

The Foreign Ministry said the ships were seized last February and the sentences handed down last month on Shikotan, one of the disputed islands. The ministry said it was informed of the sentences only Wednesday, but did not explain the delay.

Earlier this week, a Russian patrol ship fired on and hit two Japanese vessels, injuring the captain of one. That incident has led to a flurry of protests and exchanges between Moscow and Tokyo.

The dispute over the islands, which Russia seized from Japan in the final days of World War II and continues to occupy, is the main obstacle to improved relations between the two nations. The two have never signed a treaty officially ending their wartime hostilities.