SEOUL--Infuriated by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s remarks, South Korea suggested it would take the “comfort women” issue to the United Nations to force Japan to apologize and offer compensation for its wartime actions.
“Seoul will not rule out the option of submitting the issue to the U.N. General Assembly at an appropriate time,” an official of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told a news conference on Aug. 28.
The news conference was held amid the escalating dispute between the two neighbors over the Takeshima islands, which are called Dokdo and controlled by South Korea. It also came after Noda fueled the controversy during the Upper House Budget Committee session on Aug. 27.
The prime minister said accounts by former comfort women confirmed that they were forced to work at military brothels before and during World War II. But he also said there are no documents or testimonies on the Japanese side that confirm the women were coerced.
South Korean media and politicians took Noda’s comments as a denial of the issue, a distortion of history, and a move away from the Japanese government’s apologetic statement announced in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
Kono’s statement apologizes to Korean and other Asian women forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during the war and acknowledges that Japanese military authorities were involved in the recruitment program.
“The victims are evidence,” the South Korean foreign ministry official said. “(Noda’s remarks) appear to be nothing but to render the government's regret for its actions invalid.”
Noda did say on Aug. 27 that he would adhere to Kono’s statement.
Still, the South Korean parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee the following day adopted a resolution demanding the Japanese government officially apologize and compensate the victims.
The latest flare-up escalated after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s landed on one of the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan on Aug. 10 and later demanded an apology from Emperor Akihito for Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
During the Upper House Budget Committee session on Aug. 27, Noda also criticized Lee for saying the comfort women issue was behind his surprise visit to the islets.
“If he landed on Takeshima on those grounds, it is all the more strange. The issue was legally settled in 1965 (when Japan and South Korea normalized relations),” Noda said.
Conservative politicians in Japan have added to the controversy. Last week, Toru Hashimoto, the popular maverick mayor of Osaka, said no definite evidence exists that shows the comfort women were coerced.
“If there is evidence, I would like people in South Korea to present it,” Hashimoto said on Aug. 21.
The private sector in South Korea is also getting more involved in the dispute. A group operating the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do province, where eight former Korean comfort women live together, plans to send invitations on Aug. 29 to Noda, Hashimoto and all Japanese Diet members to “have a talk” at the home.
In addition, more than 170 individuals and private groups in South Korea have adopted a joint statement that denounces Japan and says Tokyo is “losing whatever small conscience it was left with."
The Japanese government helped establish a private fund in 1995 to solicit donations from the public for former comfort women.
But many of the women have refused the money, demanding state compensation and an official apology instead.
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