03/02/2006, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Roh urges Japan to be critical about war crimes

by Theresa Kim Hwa-yung

The South Korean president said Japan must follow the example of Germany and distance itself from war crimes, if it wants to legitimately and fully form part of the international community.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – In a speech marking the 87th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, President Roh strongly criticized Tokyo's mishandling of war crimes. Under fire were the repeated visits of the Japanese premier to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, considered by Chinese and Koreans as a symbol of the lack of repentance for Japanese militarism. Among those honoured at the shrine in Tokyo are 14 convicted Class-A war criminals, responsible for heinous atrocities during World War II, which claimed the lives of 2.5 million Japanese.

"In recent years, the leaders of China and Korea have made great efforts towards reconciliation and harmony with Japan," said Roh. "But Tokyo has changed its past political policy very little, if at all." The South Korean president cited the disputes over the territorial sovereignty of the Dokdo islets in the East Sea and distortions in Japanese history textbooks. At the start of last year, Japan laid claim to the ownership of Dokdo, islands which are at the farthest eastwards tip of South Korea. Tokyo has also approved text books that critics say cover up war crimes and the forced prostitution of South Korean women, known as "comfort women".

In his strongly worded speech during a ceremony at the Sejong Centre for the Performing Arts in Seoul, Roh said if Japan wanted to become a leading country in the world, it must first win over the trust of the international community. To do so, it must respect globally accepted principles of conscientious behaviour prior to building up its military power. He added Japan should follow the way Germany dealt with its wartime history in order to be a true member of the world community.

Japan has been seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council backed by its ally, the United States. But its Asian neighbours, led by South Korea and China, have pledged to block the bid. They accuse Japan of distorting history and whitewashing its wartime atrocities.

Japan occupied the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Seoul-Tokyo ties are at their lowest ebb, following a series of moves by Japanese politicians, felt by Koreans to be provocations linked to wartime history. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited Yasukuni shrine five times since his inauguration in 2001, including the latest visit last October, despite strong protests from South Korea and China. Last month, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso suggested Japan's emperor resume paying homage at the shrine. He described calls for stopping the shrine visit an intervention in Japan's internal affairs.

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