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The New York Times
March 17, 2007
Japan Repeats Denial of Role in World War II Sex Slavery
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
TOKYO, March 16 — The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeated Friday that there was no proof that the Japanese military forced women into sexual slavery during World War II.
In a written statement endorsed by the cabinet, the government referred to a study from the early 1990s and said that “among the materials it discovered, it did not come across any that directly show that the military or authorities so-called forcibly led away” the women, known euphemistically as comfort women.
The statement was in response to a request from an opposition lawmaker, Kiyomi Tsujimoto, for Mr. Abe to explain remarks in which he had denied that the military coerced the women into working as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers throughout Asia.
The remarks caused a furor throughout Asia as well as in the United States, where the House of Representatives has been considering a nonbinding resolution that would call for Japan to acknowledge and apologize unequivocally for its wartime sex slavery.
The government stated that it would adhere to a 1993 declaration that acknowledged and apologized for Japan’s brutal mistreatment of the comfort women. But Mr. Abe, who has been under pressure from the right wing of his Liberal Democratic Party to reject the 1993 declaration’s admission of state responsibility, said last week that the women had been coerced by private brokers.
The 1993 declaration said, “The government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.”
Mr. Abe, whose approval ratings have been plummeting since he took office last September, said that Japan would not apologize even if the House resolution passed.
In a meeting with reporters on Friday, the American ambassador, J. Thomas Schieffer, said he hoped that the government “would not back away” from the 1993 statement.
Mr. Schieffer described as “credible witnesses” former comfort women who recently testified in Congress about being coerced into prostitution by the Japanese authorities.
“I take the word of the women that testified,” Mr. Schieffer said.
He added: “I think they were coerced to engage in prostitution. That means they were raped by the Japanese military at that point in time. I think that happened, and I think it was a regrettable, terrible thing that it happened. I think the events speak for themselves.”
A group of conservative lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party has been leading efforts to soften the 1993 declaration, and is planning to conduct a new investigation into the comfort women issue. Mr. Abe, a founding member of that group in the 1990s, has said that the government will cooperate in the new investigation by providing it with documents.