03/03/2012, 00.00
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Lee Myung-bak warns Tokyo to solve the comfort women issue

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
For the first time, a South Korean leader raises the issue during celebrations marking the birth of the country's independent movement on 1 March and the start of the fight against Japanese colonialism. The president also expressed his solidarity with a lawmaker on a hunger strike to protest China's decision to repatriate North Korean refugees.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has openly called on the Japanese government to resolve the issue of sexual slavery during Japan's colonial occupation of Korea. He made the appeal in Tapgok, Seoul, on 1 March, which marks the 93rd anniversary of the country's independence movement. "More than anything else, we require the true courage and wisdom to not ignore the two countries' true history if [South Korea and Japan] are to carry on cooperating closely as true partners," he said.

The issue of Korean sex slaves has dragged on for decades. Most of the victims have died without receiving justice. The few who remain have few chances of getting an official apology (or compensation) from Tokyo.

"If [the comfort women] leave this world without ever having resolved the bitterness in their hearts, then Japan will forever have missed an opportunity to resolve this matter," the president said.

This is the first time Lee has ever mentioned the issue of women drafted into sexual slavery for the Japanese military in a 1 March commemoration address.

The South Korean leader also sent a letter of encouragement and gifts of honey and nutrient cream to some of the survivors. In his missive, he wrote, "I am writing you this letter because I thought of you especially as the March 1 holiday arrived."

The president also made a call of encouragement the previous day to Liberty Forward Party lawmaker Park Sun-young, who is currently fasting to protest the repatriation of North Korean defectors from China.

During the Second World War, about 200,000 women aged 11 to 25 years were dragged into "comfort stations", where they suffered rape and abuse every day and every night.

Even after Korea's independence, some of them were left in these fields, because of prejudice and rejection by their own government.

Of the 234 certified former comfort women, more than two thirds have died without ever seeing their last wish granted: to receive a sincere apology from the Japanese government.

On 12 October, South Korea presented the issue to the General Assembly of the United Nations to seek recognition of the legal responsibility of Japan.

For Tokyo, the question of reparations-for the damage inflicted on Korea during the Japanese military occupation-was resolved with the 1965 agreement, with no official apologies or public recognition of the crime committed against these women.

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