SEOUL--South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called on Japan to "urgently" solve the issue of so-called comfort women forced to provide sexual services for Japanese soldiers more than half a century ago.
Alluding to the fact that the women are all in advanced years, Lee called it a "humanitarian issue" that must be tackled with great urgency.
He renewed his appeal in a March 1 speech marking the 93rd anniversary of an independence movement against Japanese colonial rule.
“(It) is a humanitarian issue that should be resolved urgently,” Lee said.
It is the first time the president has referred to the "comfort women" issue in a speech to commemorate the "three-one movement," which began on March 1, 1919.
Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Lee also raised the "comfort women" issue during summit talks with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in December. It was the first time Lee had done so since he became president.
Lee clearly intends to continue pressing Japan on this issue.
While noting that the two countries "are close neighbors that share various common interests," he urged Japan to have the "courage of not ignoring historical truth." He said this was a necessity if "the two countries are to work closely together."
"It does not mean that the problem will be resolved if they pass away," Lee added. "(But if it does not act properly) Japan will lose an opportunity to resolve the problem forever."
In South Korea, tension over "comfort women" has reached new heights.
Former "comfort women" and their supporters have been holding regular protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. In December, they set up a memorial statue in front of the embassy. Tokyo demanded its removal, but Seoul was unswayed.
In a letter to former "comfort women" on the March 1 anniversary, Lee wrote: "I was greatly disappointed with the Japanese government’s attitude (on the statue)."
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