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February 25, 2009

Dokdo or Takeshima

Isolated, tiny and desolate, The Liancourt Rocks are the center of an international dispute that dates back to the 15th century. Koreans claim sovereignty over what they call "Dokdo", while the Japanese maintain that the islets are theirs, calling them "Takeshima". South Korea currently administers this collection of 90 islands and reefs in the Sea of Japan (East Sea), centered about halfway between South Korea and Japan - with only 2 permanent residents and 40 government workers stationed there (police, lighthouse keepers, Fishery Ministry personnel). Although the dispute is centuries old, it has heated up recently due to several incidents: increased efforts in Japan to call attention to the dispute itself, a flip-flop last year by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names where they briefly labeled the rocks as having "Undesignated Sovereignty" (undone by executive order within days), and the public observations in Japan of "Takeshima Day" on February 22nd. South Korean citizens have staged numerous protests against Japan over the past few years, some with extreme demonstrations, including a woman and her son who cut off a finger each, and one man who attempted to set himself on fire. (14 photos total)

A group of desolate volcanic islets known by North and South Koreans as Dokdo and by Japanese as Takeshima, is seen in this aerial view photo taken July 14, 2008. South Korea last year briefly recalled its ambassador from Tokyo in protest after Japan said it would write about the longstanding dispute about the islands in school textbooks. (REUTERS/Korea Pool/Newsis)

A South Korean police officer stands guard on one of the two main islands in dispute on July 18, 2008. South Korea rejected Japan's proposal to hold a bilateral foreign ministers' meeting at an Asian forum in July, in anger over the territorial dispute. (REUTERS/Han Sang-gyun/Yonhap) #

The Dokdo/Takeshima dispute has brought together the two Koreas in a small way - pictured here are North Koreans from the Korean History Academy attending the "Inter-Korean forum to oppose Japan's distorted history and Japan's manoeuvre to rob Dokdo" in Pyongyang, North Korea on November 13, 2008. It took six decades for the divided Koreas to meet to talk about Japan's colonial past, but it took them just two hours to agree they had common grievances with their Asian neighbour. (LEE JAE-WON/Reuters) #

A general view shows the two main islets in the disputed group - the larger West Islet is called Seodo by Koreans or Danshima by Japanese and the East Islet called Dongdo by Koreans or Joshima by Japanese. Photo taken from a South Korean police patrol ship near Dokdo islets August 25, 2008. (REUTERS/Noh Sun-Tag) #

South Korean veterans struggle with policemen during a protest over Japan's claims to the disputed Dokdo/Takeshima islands outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on July 25, 2008. (JEON HYEONG-JIN/AFP/Getty Images) #

South Korean police officers scuffle with a protester, second from right, as they seize a Japanese national flag from him during a rally against Japan's sovereignty claims over Dokdo/Takeshima, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Sept. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) #

In a protest, South Korean army veterans cut off the necks of live pheasants - Japan's national bird - dropping blood on Japanese flags outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on July 17, 2008. (KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images) #

The islands of Dokdo/Takeshima are seen in this aerial view. South Korea's Prime Minister Han Seung-soo visited the disputed islands on July 29, 2008, and criticised a U.S. government agency that had shifted its position on their ownership (the shift was later reversed by an Executive Order from president Bush). (REUTERS/Jeon Su-young/Yonhap ) #

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, left, and other officials offer a silent prayer in front of memorial monuments to Korean people who died defending small cluster of Dokdo islets, known as "Takeshima" in Japan, South Korea, Tuesday, July 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Yonhap, Jeon Su-young) #

Using a giant brush, South Koreans draw their national flag on the ground of Dokdo/Takeshima, during a rally denouncing Japan's sovereignty claim over the islets August 15, 2008. (REUTERS/Lee Seung-hyung/Yonhap) #

The only two permanent residents on the islannds, Kim Seong-do and his wife Kim Sin-yeol (right) greet South Korean prime minister Han Seung-soo during his visit to Dokdo/Takeshima on July 29, 2008. (REUTERS/Jeon Su-young/Yonhap) #

A South Korean coast guard boat passes by Dokdo/Takeshima on Monday, Aug. 25. 2008. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) #

A South Korean national flag flutters aboard a tourship during a tour to Dokdo/Takeshima on July 16, 2008. (KIM JAE-MYOUNG/AFP/Getty Images) #

A South Korean navy vessel participates in a defence drill with its air force near Dokdo/Takeshima on the East Sea July 30, 2008. (REUTERS/South Korean Navy/Handout) #
An interactive Google Map of tiny Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima), which lie 217 km (135 mi) from mainland South Korea and 250 km (150 mi) from Japan proper. The total land area of the 37-plus islands is around 46 acres. View Larger Map #