SK president apologizes to former sex slaves over flawed Japan deal

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South Korea's President Moon Jae-in on Thursday apologized to Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese army over "a flawed deal" with Tokyo to settle the issue.
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Reuters

South Korean President Moon Jae-in meets with South Korean Kim Bok-dong, who was abducted to serve as a "comfort woman" for wartime Japanese soldiers, at a hospital in Seoul, South Korea, January 4, 2018.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in on Thursday apologized to Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s imperial army in World War II over what he called a flawed 2015 deal with Tokyo to settle long-running disputes over the issue.

Moon issued the apology during a meeting with nine former sexual slavery victims, all of them now elderly women. It’s the first time that Moon has apologized over the deal, which was struck before he took office last May.

“I feel sorry for the fact that the deal was reached without listening to your opinions and was against your wills. I’m offering words of apology as president.”

Last week, a state-appointed panel concluded Seoul’s previous conservative government failed to properly communicate with the victims before reaching the deal. Moon later ordered officials to map out measures to meet the victims’ demands.

Moon’s moves placed the prospect for the deal into doubt, with Tokyo warning that any attempt to revise the accord would make bilateral relations “unmanageable” and “unacceptable.”

In December 2015, the government of Moon’s conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, agreed to settle the sex slavery dispute in return for an apology from Japan’s prime minister and a pledge of 1 billion yen (US$8.8 million).

Eight of the women met Moon for lunch at the presidential compound, known as the Blue House, in Seoul, the president’s office said in a statement.

“We told you the previous government’s agreement was wrong and this issue hasn’t been resolved,” Moon told one of the women before the lunch. “It’s still not an easy situation to handle within our bilateral relationship.”

Moon wanted to gauge the women’s reaction to his government’s position on the deal, the Blue House said.

Moon visited one of the women, Kim Bok-dong, separately in the morning as she was ill and unable to attend the lunch.

“We survived when bullets were raining down and we’ll be able to get through this,” Kim told Moon.

The women want Japan to take legal, binding responsibility for its actions and Kim was scornful of the 2015 pay-out.

“The money should be sent back to Japan,” she said.

Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, before it was divided into North Korea and South Korea later.

A total of 239 South Korean women have officially registered themselves as former sex slaves with authorities, a status that makes them eligible for state subsidy and benefits. Thirty two of them are still alive.

Experts say many other former sex slaves haven’t come forward largely out of worries about social stigma in a conservative country that had long prized women’s chastity.


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