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South Korea's foreign minister says Japanese PM's remarks on WWII sex slaves not helpful
The Associated Press
Friday, March 2, 2007
WASHINGTON: Responding to comments by Japan's nationalist prime minister, South Korea's foreign minister says people who doubt that the Japanese Imperial Army forced Asian women into sexual slavery during World War II had "better face the truth."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that no proof existed that so-called comfort women were forced into prostitution, and the comment sparked angry reactions throughout Asia.
"That is not helpful," South Korea's foreign minister, Song Min-soon, told The Associated Press Friday before a speech at a Washington think tank. "We had better face the truth."
Historians say some 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, served in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Many victims say they were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops.
Abe said Thursday: "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion."
His statement contradicted evidence in Japanese documents unearthed in 1992 that historians said showed military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels. The remark also cast doubt on a 1993 Japanese government apology to the sex slaves.
U.S. lawmakers have introduced a nonbinding resolution urging Japan to apologize formally.
Supporters of the resolution want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by the Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Japan objects to the resolution and says its leaders have apologized repeatedly. Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, for instance, said in 2001 that he felt sincere remorse for the comfort women's "immeasurable and painful experiences."
Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, a sponsor of the U.S. resolution who spent part of his childhood in one of the internment camps, said in an interview that there is "zero historical doubt" that comfort women were coerced.
"The prime minister's comments are a desperate attempt to revise history," Honda said. "He's been known to be a nationalistic revisionist for Japan. An official apology would be a courageous step for a democratic nation like Japan."
South Korean: Doubters on WWII sex slaves should 'face the truth'
The Associated Press
Friday, March 2, 2007
TOKYO: Anyone who doubts that the Japanese army forced Asian women into sexual slavery in World War II should "face the truth," South Korea's foreign minister said as outrage grew over comments by Japan's prime minister that there was no evidence of the enslavement.
Women's rights activists in the Philippines and a group of lawmakers in South Korea also denounced Shinzo Abe for saying Thursday there was no proof that so-called "comfort women" were forced into prostitution during the war.
But one of the harshest comments came from 81-year-old Hilaria Bustamante of Manila, who said Friday she was kept as a sex slave in a Japanese garrison for a year in 1942 as a 16-year-old.
"What he (Abe) said has angered me," she said. "They think we are just like toilet paper that they can throw away after being used."
Historians say some 200,000 women — mostly from Korea and China — served in the Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Witnesses, victims and even some former Japanese soldiers say many of the women were kidnapped or otherwise forced into brothels, where they could be raped by scores of soldiers a day.
Abe said Thursday that there is no proof the women were forced into prostitution: "The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion."
His statement contradicted evidence in Japanese documents unearthed in 1992 that historians said showed military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels, known as "comfort stations." The remark also cast doubt on a 1993 Japanese government apology to the sex slaves.
Abe's comments were "not helpful," South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told The Associated Press before making a speech in Washington on Friday.
"We had better face the truth," Song said in the South Korean government's first reaction to the nationalist prime minister's remarks.
Victims and their supporters have pushed unsuccessfully for a parliament-approved apology from Japan and official government compensation. Japan set up a private fund for compensation in 1995, but has refused to provide government money.
In China, Su Zhiliang, the director of the Chinese Comfort Women Research Center at Shanghai's Normal University, said she was surprised by Abe's remarks.
"Suddenly to have Abe deny the fact that women were coerced into sexual slavery is both very regrettable and very enraging," said Su, who has compiled 100 case studies with testimonials from Chinese comfort women since he began researching the issue in 1993.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, on a visit to Tokyo, declined to comment directly on Abe's statement.
The United States has avoided public involvement in historical disputes between Japan and its neighbors, but last month the House of Representatives held hearings on a resolution calling for Japan to fully acknowledge and apologize for the sexual abuse. U.S. lawmakers have introduced a nonbinding resolution urging Japan to apologize formally.
Rechilda Extremadura, executive director of Lila Pilipina, an organization of activists and former Filipino wartime sex slaves, said 120 are still alive among 174 documented Filipino comfort women.
"Our women here, the grandmothers, said that they were forced, that they were coerced into rendering sexual servitude inside the garrisons, inside the 'comfort stations,'" Extremadura said. "Now, let the Japanese government prove that they went there willingly ... so that they can be labeled as prostitutes. That is where this is heading."
She called on the Japanese government to acknowledge the history: "If you are a responsible government, you are responsible enough to accept, acknowledge and be accountable."
Bustamante said she was heading home in 1942 after scavenging for rice when three Japanese soldiers stopped her on the road and seized her by the arms and legs and threw her into a truck "like a pig."
"Even as I struggled, I could not do anything. They slapped me, they punched me. I was only 16 then, what could I do?" she told AP Television News.
Oliver Teves in Manila, Burt Herman in Seoul, Foster Klug in Washington, and Alexa Olesen in Beijing contributed to this report.
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