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South Korea, Japan to hold crucial talks on comfort women

Monday, Dec 28, 2015,11:24 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Seoul | The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan will hold talks today on the thorny issue of wartime sex slaves that has long strained ties, with hints of a possible compromise emerging. Seoul and Tokyo were tussling over the wording of an agreement to settle the issue of comfort women, South Korean media reported, hours before South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se was due to meet his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

Up to 200,000 women are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II, many of them Korean, and they were euphemistically called comfort women. Seoul is demanding a formal apology and compensation for the 46 surviving Korean women. Both sides have found some common ground as to the thorniest issue the Japanese government’s legal responsibility for mobilising comfort women during the war, a South Korean government source was quoted as saying by the Joongang Ilbo daiy.

A solution under discussion would entail a Japanese government fund to compensate the victims and the payments would be called an atonement recompense, the paper said. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would also write a letter of apology to the victims, which would be delivered in person to them by the Japanese ambassador in Seoul, according to the daily.

Japan’s Kishida was also upbeat as he prepared to fly out of Tokyo’s Haneda airport Monday, calling the talks very important. He told reporters: I want to do my best. The comfort women issue is a very difficult issue, but I want to make a last-minute adjustment to consider what I can do.

Yun yesterday dismissed Japan’s claim that the issue of comfort women was settled in a 1965 agreement on normalising relations between the two countries. Japan has long maintained that the dispute was settled in the 1965 agreement which saw Tokyo make a total payment of USD 800 million in grants or loans to its former colony.

But Seoul says the treaty does not cover compensation for victims of wartime crimes against humanity such as the mobilisation of comfort women and that the agreement does not absolve the Japanese government of its legal responsibility.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has said settlement of the issue remains the greatest stumbling block to friendlier ties. South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-Hyuck on Saturday dismissed the reports as preposterous. The foreign ministry said on its Facebook page that the statue in question was set up by civilians and the government had no say over its location.

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