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An innocent-looking strip of South Korean stamps picturing flowers, birds, a butterfly and a rocky island is causing controversy in Japan.
The stamps sold out in South Korea in about two hours on their first day of issue, Jan. 16. The stamps feature nature found on Tokto (Dokdo-si), a group of islands and islets located in the sea between South Korea and Japan. Ownership of the islands has been disputed since the end of World War II.
The name of these rocky outcrops has several variations, including Tokdo and Dokdo. The Japanese call them Takeshima. Another name for them is the Liancourt Rocks.
Other than flora and fauna, the islands are inhabited only by a garrison of South Korean soldiers. They also are patrolled by South Korean naval vessels.
According to news reports, officials in Japan urged South Korea not to issue the stamps, with official protests starting in August 2003 and continuing up to the last minute before their release.
Yasuo Fukuda, Japanís chief cabinet secretary, said in a news conference, "It is truly regrettable that the stamps will be issued despite our repeated requests not to do so."
Jay Q. Park, South Koreaís director general of posts, said of Japanís requests, "From Japanís perspective, they are judging Tokto Island as a disputed territory, but from our perspective and from the foreign ministryís view, we clearly claim that it is not disputed land."
Tae-gyu Kim, reporting in The Korea Times, quoted Korea Post as saying, "The Tokto stamps are designed to feature the natural beauty of Tokto, and the issuance of the stamps doesnít violate Universal Postal Union regulations. We hope these stamps will not impair cooperation between the two nationsí postal services."
The controversy must have spurred people in South Korea to buy the stamps. They began lining up at dawn on Jan. 16. The entire printing of 560,000 strips of four was sold out in approximately two hours, according to reports from postal workers.
A similar controversy occurred 50 years ago when South Korea issued three stamps picturing the island (Scott 200-02), and Japan said that it would not accept mail bearing the stamps.
Japanese officials apparently ignored or simply were not aware of a 2002 stamp showing Tokto. The stamp (sc# 2094b) is part of a set of 32 featuring regions of South Korea. The stamps were issued Aug. 1, 2002, in 16 pairs of se-tenant (side-by-side) designs.
The four new se-tenant stamps each bear a denomination of 190 won. They were designed by Gi-seog Lee, based on a painting by Bok-sik Lee. The Korea Minting and Security Printing Corp. printed them by gravure in panes of 16.
The new-issue announcement from South Koreaís post office begins: "Surrounded by the sea on three sides, the ter-(Please turn to page 43)
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