Lee urges prompt action from Japan on ‘comfort women’


South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak delivers a speech marking the 93rd anniversary of the Korea's 1919 nationwide uprising, known as the March First Independence Movement against Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula, at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul, South Korea, March 1, 2012. Lee Myung-bak on Thursday urged Japan to take a positive stance on solving the issue of Korean "comfort women", who were forced into sexual slavery under Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. <Photo: Xinhua>

President Lee Myung-bak renewed his appeal to Japan to resolve long-running grievances over its wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, describing it as an urgent humanitarian matter Thursday.

Lee emphasized that the comfort women issue is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims, who “have lived with painful scars in their hearts for their entire lives,” are well over 80 years old and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Tokyo.

“First and foremost, in order for the two nations to become true partners and work closely together, there has to be genuine courage and wisdom that does not neglect the truth of history,” he said.

“In particular, the issue of comfort women is an important humanitarian task that should be resolved more urgently than any other issue.”

Lee made the remarks during a speech at a ceremony commemorating Korea’s 1919 nationwide uprising, known as the March 1 Independence Movement, against Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

During the 35-year colonial rule, Koreans were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands were mobilized as forced laborers and wartime sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women.”

“These women have harbored excruciating emotional pain throughout their lives spanning more than 80 years. Should these women pass away without seeing the settlement of the issue, the problem will not go away,” Lee said.

“On the contrary, Japan will be forever losing an opportunity to resolve it. That is the reason why I am urging the Japanese government to take a positive stance in solving the problem.”

In December, Lee made a similarly strong-worded appeal when he held a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. He spent most of the talks on the comfort women issue, repeatedly raising the matter without talking about economic issues such as a possible free trade agreement between the neighboring countries.

Lee urged Japan to “muster up courage” and promptly address the issue, saying it remains a “stumbling block” to any improvement in relations between the two countries

Tokyo has acknowledged that its wartime military used sex slaves, but has thus far ignored Seoul’s demand for official talks on compensating the aging victims.

It maintains that all issues regarding its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including the comfort women, were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal under which the two countries normalized their relations

Seoul has been making the demand since its Constitutional Court ruled last year it was unconstitutional for the government to make no specific efforts to settle the matter with Tokyo. <Korea Times/Lee Tae-hoon>


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