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South Korea’s president seeks compensation for “comfort women”


Ellie Watmuff
WVoN co-editor 

South Korea has called on Japan to compensate Korean “comfort women” who were forced into working as sex slaves for Japanese servicemen.

It asked Japan to “resolve urgently” the issue, which took place during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the country.

Up to 200,000 women are thought to have suffered, although there are only 63 registered survivors left.

During a speech to commemorate the 93rd anniversary of Korea’s 1919 uprising, president Lee Myung-bak last week urged Japan to make amends, saying “the issue …is a humanitarian matter that must be resolved more urgently than any other pending issue.

As most of the victims were approaching old age and “have lived with excruciating emotional pain and suffering for their entire lives”, he said they deserved an apology.

Although Japan apologized in 1993 and established a compensation fund, some victims rejected it because it was funded through private contributions.

This is not the first time Lee has raised the issue. He asked Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Nada in December to hold bilateral talks to discuss compensation for the elderly victims.

On December 13 some “comfort women” and their supporters erected a bronze statue of a young girl in traditional Korean dress in front of the Japanese embassy in the capital, Seoul, as a mark of protest.

Japan remains equally resolute, however, with the prime minister saying the “comfort women” issue had been settled by a 1965 treaty, in which Japan offered $800 million in grants and soft loans to Korea.

Lee seems committed to resolving the issue and last week sent letters of encouragement and gifts of honey and nutrient cream to the  women, in which he said:

“The government will continue showing its profound interest in you and doing everything that it can”.

In his address, Lee said he hoped Japan would “not evad(e)..the historical truth, which is needed to work closely as a genuine partner”, suggesting that future good relations between the two countries may hang on the issue.

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