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S Korea, Japan strike deal on ‘comfort women’

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South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (R) and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida (L) hold a joint press briefing after their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on December 28, 2015. South Korea and Japan reached a landmark agreement on the thorny issue of wartime sex slaves that has long strained relations, Seoul's foreign minister said. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE

Seoul: South Korea and Japan reached agreement today on their dispute over wartime sex slaves that has soured relations for decades, as Tokyo’s leader hailed a “new era” in ties with Seoul.

Japan offered a “heartfelt apology” and a one-billion yen (USD 8.3 million) payment to Korean women forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II. Now the two countries, both close US allies, “will welcome a new era”, Japanese Prime Minister  told reporters in Tokyo after speaking by phone with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.

The fate of the 46 surviving South Korean “comfort women” is a hugely emotional issue in South Korea, and a source of much of the distrust that has marred relations with its former colonial ruler Japan for decades. The deal would be “final and irreversible” if Japan fulfils its responsibilities, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se said after talks in Seoul with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.


Kishida said the issue was “one that deeply hurt the women’s honour and dignity with the involvement of the (Japanese) military at the time, and from this viewpoint the Japanese government keenly feels its responsibility”. Abe, he said, extends “his feeling of heartfelt apology and regret to all of those who as comfort women have suffered great pain, both mentally and physically, that is difficult to heal”.

“I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a ground-breaking achievement,” Kishida said. The deal, he said, “will not only benefit our country but also largely contribute to the region’s peace and stability”. As part of the agreement Seoul will try to relocate a statue symbolising comfort women which currently stands in front of the Japanese embassy through consultations with relevant NGOs, Yun said. He said Seoul would also refrain frombringing up the comf ort women issue again in international forums such as the United Nations.

“I am very pleased to declare the successful conclusion of the difficult negotiations before the year is out, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties,” Yun said. Up to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, are estimated to have been sexually enslaved by Japan during World War II. Japan has long maintained that the dispute was settled in a 1965 agreement which saw Tokyo establish diplomatic ties and  make a payment of $800 million in grants or loans to Korea, which it ruled from 1910-1945.

Kishida said today the one-billion-won payment was not compensation but a project to resore the women’s dignity. South Korea has said the 1965 treaty did not cover compensation for victims of wartime crimes such as comfort women, and did not absolve the Japanese government of legal responsibility.