S. Korea to review deal over sex slaves
SEOUL — South Korea on Monday began an official review of a controversial agreement with Japan over World War II sex slaves, formally reopening an issue that still strains ties between them.
Mainstream historians said up to 200,000 women, mostly from the Korea Peninsula but also other parts of Asia including China, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
The plight of the “comfort women” is a hugely emotional issue that has marred relations between the Asian neighbors for decades. For many South Koreans, it epitomizes the abuses of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over the peninsula.
South Korea and Japan reached a “final and irreversible” agreement in December 2015, under which Tokyo offered an apology and 1 billion yen ($9 million) to open a foundation for the dwindling number of comfort women who are still alive.
The deal, reached by the previous Seoul administration of Park Geun-hye, was condemned by some of the women and activists, who took issue with Japan’s refusal to accept formal legal responsi- bility and questioned the sincerity of its apology.
A government-appointed task force was launched on Monday to investigate the deal, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.
President Moon Jae-in had promised a review on the campaign trail. But Japan maintains that the two countries must abide by the agreement.
Since its signing, it has pressed Seoul to remove a statue of a girl erected in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by activists to symbolize the victims of sex slavery.
They have since put up more statues — including one outside the Japanese consulate in Busan — which led to Tokyo recalling its ambassador for three months earlier this year.
Several of the surviving South Korean comfort women — currently numbering 37 — refused to accept the final compensation provided by Japan.
A group of 12 comfort women filed a lawsuit against Seoul last year for signing the agreement without their consent and despite Tokyo’s refusal to take legal responsibility.