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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea is considering designating a cluster of disputed islets in the Sea of Japan as a national park, officials said Monday. The move was expected to draw protests from Japan.

The islets, called Tok-do in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan, are uninhabited but surrounded by fertile fishing grounds. They have been claimed by both countries since Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Seoul has previously sought to strengthen its claim to sovereignty by building a wharf on one of them.

Officials at the Ministry of Environment said South Korea might designate a 186-square-mile area encompassing the islets and surrounding waters as a national park as early as 2004.

The islets were deemed ``worthy'' of being preserved as a national park because of their ``abundant resources and scenic view,'' the officials said.