'˜Comfort women' demand face-to-face apology from Japan

Two elderly South Korean women abused by Japan's wartime military-run brothel system are in Japan to reject a recent settlement agreement between the two governments and demand that prime minister Shinzo Abe give them a face-to-face apology and formal compensation.

Lee Ok-sun, left, and Kang Il-chul are in Japan in bid for face-to-face meetings with PM Shinzo Abe. Picture: AP
Lee Ok-sun, left, and Kang Il-chul are in Japan in bid for face-to-face meetings with PM Shinzo Abe. Picture: AP

Lee Ok-sun, 88, and Kang Il-chul, 87, told reporters yesterday that the agreement neglected the victims’ feelings and was “wrong”.

They are among tens of thousands of Asian women sexually abused in Japan’s military-run brothel system during World War II. Lee and Kang were forcibly sent to China when they were teenagers in the early 1940s and could not return to their homes until decades later.

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Lee and Kang said neither government had asked their opinion ahead of the agreement, which they said was a clear sign they were disregarded. They noted that Abe had not directly apologised in his own words, and that Japan stated that its pledge in the agreement to set up a fund was not compensation but for humanitarian purposes.

Lee and Kang now live at a private shelter, the House of Sharing, with eight other victims. Of the 238 South Korean women who were formally recognised as victims of Japan’s wartime sex abuse, only 46 are still alive – most of them in their late 80s and 90s.

The director of the shelter, Ahn Shin-kwon, who accompanied the two on their trip, said the group requested a meeting with Abe and other government officials, but that it is unlikely to take place.

“Not only has Abe not apologised but he hasn’t even tried to meet us,” Kang said angrily, sitting next to Lee. Both were in wheelchairs. “Why doesn’t he come out and apologise? We want him to meet us face to face,” she said.

Kenko Sone, a spokesman at the prime minister’s office, said there is no immediate plan for Abe to meet the two women during their visit, or other so-called wartime “comfort women” in the future.

The December agreement included an indirect apology from Abe and a Japanese pledge to provide 1 billion yen (£5.5 million) to a fund for the South Korean victims.

Japan in 1993 acknowledged forcing women into military brothels, often by deception and sometimes by physical force. The government set up a private fund in 1995, but that was not seen as sincere by some, especially in South Korea.

“Comfort women were not treated as human beings. We were considered objects given to soldiers,” said Kang.