TV & Radio
Japan's latest sex slave statement could fuel furore
Fri Mar 16, 2007 9:37AM GMT
By Chisa Fujioka and Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) - A diplomatic furore over Japan's wartime brothels looked unlikely to fade after Tokyo said on Friday a 14-year-old study had found no evidence the government or military officials had kidnapped women to act as prostitutes.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's latest statement -- which was issued in response to an opposition lawmaker's query and which also reiterated that Japan stood by a 1993 apology -- came as the U.S. ambassador to Japan said he believed the women were forced to act as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.
"I take the word of the women that testified," U.S. envoy Thomas Schieffer told a group of journalists. Three former sex slaves testified to U.S. Congress last month.
"I think that they were coerced to engage in prostitution ... That means they were raped by Japanese military at that point in time," he added. "I think that happened and I think it was a regrettable, terrible thing that it happened.
"I think the events speak for themselves."
Abe sparked outrage overseas when he said early this month there was no evidence that Japan's government or army had forcibly brought the women, mostly Asian and many of them Korean, to serve Japanese soldiers in the brothels.
He has since sought to dampen the furore, which threatened to cloud summits with Chinese and U.S. leaders, by repeating that the 1993 apology stood and expressing sympathy for the suffering of the "comfort women," as they are known in Japan.
Abe is to visit Washington in late April after a summit with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Tokyo earlier the same month.
Schieffer welcomed Abe's backing for the apology and advised Japan to stick to that stance.
"I think there is a sensitivity in the United States on this particular issue, and I think the Japanese needed to be aware of that and I think they are," he said.
'NO DIRECT EVIDENCE'
U.S. Congressman Michael Honda has introduced a resolution seeking an unambiguous apology for the suffering of the sex slaves at the hands of the Japanese army, although the resolution is unlikely to be voted on until after Abe's U.S. visit.
"I think the prime minister is going to have a very good visit in the United States and I would hope this sort of thing would not detract from it," Schieffer said.
Abe's original remarks have already sparked an irate reaction from South Korea and more restrained comments from China, and Friday's statement could stir up more anger abroad.
Echoing remarks by officials after the 1993 study was completed, Abe's written statement on Friday said there had been no direct reference in documents found during the research that either government or military officials had forcibly hauled the women to the brothels.
Abe last week rejected a demand by a group of ruling party lawmakers for the government to conduct a new probe on the topic, but said the government would cooperate with a study by the party.
The head of the group -- which denies victims' accounts of being forced by Japanese soldiers to work in the brothels -- said on Thursday that they would forge ahead with the research.
Abe, 52, hails from the most conservative wing of his Liberal Democratic Party, and with his ratings sagging, analysts had said his original remarks were an attempt to woo his conservative base ahead of a July upper house election.