TV & Radio
Japanese prime minister apologizes to World War II-era sex slaves
By Hiroko Tabuchi, Associated Press Writer
Published: 27 March 2007
Japan's nationalist prime minister apologized yesterday to women who suffered in the country's wartime brothels, but stopped short of bowing to international pressure by clearly acknowledging Tokyo's role in forcing thousands into sexual slavery.
"I express my sympathy toward the comfort women and apologize for the situation they found themselves in," Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary committee on Monday, using a euphemism used by Japanese politicians for sex slaves. "I apologize here and now as prime minister."
Abe's apology was his clearest yet since the conservative leader triggered international furore earlier this month by saying there was no evidence that women were coerced into sexual service in the World War II era.
Still, his remarks fell short of demands made by victims that Abe clearly acknowledge that the wartime military forced the women into prostitution.
Historians say that as many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly from Korea and China, worked in military-run brothels. Victims say they were forced into the brothels by the Japanese military and were held against their will.
But right-wing politicians, which make up a bulk of Abe's support base, have in recent weeks made renewed efforts to push for an official revision of a landmark apology offered by a senior government official in 1993.
Conservative ruling party lawmakers argue that the women were professional prostitutes and were paid for their services, and maintain that the military authorities were not directly responsible for the establishment or running of the brothels.
Abe's earlier denial of coercion drew intense criticism from China and Korea, which accuse Japan of failing to fully atone for wartime invasions and atrocities.
The issue also has stirred debate in the United States, where a committee in the House of Representatives is considering a nonbinding resolution calling on Japan to fully acknowledge wrongdoing and make an unambiguous apology.
Abe rebuffed criticism in the US media for his efforts to champion the cause of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago, while refusing to own up to Japan's own past kidnappings.
"(North Korea's) abductions and the comfort women issue are a completely different matter," Abe told reporters. "The issue of the abductees is an ongoing violation of human rights, while it is not as if the comfort women issue is continuing."
Abe had said previously he would not offer a fresh apology, saying the government expressed its remorse in a 1993 statement on the matter by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. Right-wing politicians who make up the bulk of Abe's support base have made renewed efforts in recent weeks to roll back that apology.
Japan has rejected most compensation claims from victims. Instead, a private fund created in 1995 by the Japanese government has provided a way to support former sex slaves without offering official government compensation.
Many women rejected the payments, demanding government compensation and a parliament-approved apology.
Also yesterday, a Japanese court rejected demands for compensation of about US$1.56 million by a group of Chinese forced to work as slave laborers at a Japanese mine during World War II, an official said.
The Miyazaki District court dismissed the lawsuit seeking damages from the Japanese government and Mitsubishi Metals Corp., formerly Mitsubishi Metal, that operated the mine during the war, court spokeswoman Tomomi Hirata said.
Kyodo News agency quoted the judge as saying the state has an obligation to pay damages but the 20-year deadline for filing compensation claims had expired.