TOKYO, Jan 31, 2010 (AFP) - Tokyo has lodged a formal complaint after Russian border guards shot at two Japanese fishing boats off the disputed South Kuril islands, the Japanese foreign ministry said.
The guards fired warning shots from a helicopter and then shot directly at the boats on Friday when the fishermen failed to stop after straying into waters off Kunashir island, a Russian statement said.
Kunashir, known as Kunashiri in Japanese, is the southernmost in the island chain, which is controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan.
The Japanese trawlers returned to their home port of Rausu and what resembled bullet marks were found on them, the Japanese foreign ministry said in a press release late Saturday.
It added the Russian action could have resulted in the loss of life and was "extremely inappropriate".
The ministry said the Japanese boats were operating in the waters in accordance of bilateral fishery arrangements.
Japan and Russia have yet to sign a World War II peace treaty because they both lay claim to four islands off northern Japan seized in 1945 by Soviet troops, who expelled Japanese residents.
The disputed territory is known as the South Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.
In 2006, a Japanese fisherman on a crab fishing boat was killed by a stray bullet fired as a warning by Russian border guards.