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Seoul to probe forced colonial laborers’ deaths

Some 30,000 Koreans believed to have been drafted for construction work in Sakhalin

The Korean government will launch its first official investigation into the deaths of Koreans forced to labor under the Japanese colonial rule in Sakhalin, an island in Russia’s Far East, a Seoul fact-finding panel said Wednesday.

The investigation will be carried out in July and August at a public graveyard in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the largest city of Sakhalin, according to the Commission on Verification and Support for the Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism in Korea.

A three-year survey by the panel under the Prime Minister’s Office found some 580 graves of Korean nationals in the 420,000-square-meter graveyard between 2007 and 2009. Of them, 125 are believed to be the victims of Japan’s forced mobilization in the 1940s.

Korean International Network, an advocacy group for overseas war survivors, will lead the on-site inspection and plans to publish an analysis report in October, the panel said.

The panel will also seek the cooperation of the Sakhalin state government.

Starting with this year’s investigation, the panel added that it would probe another 21 public cemeteries across the region in the coming five years.

“It is meaningful to have started the preparation for repatriating the remains of Korean people who failed to return home and died there even after the nation’s liberation,” said an official of the panel.

According to a separate report released by the panel in January, almost 30,000 Koreans may have been drafted by the colonial Japanese rulers for coal-mining and other engineering works in the Sakhalin region.

The report said about 43,000 Koreans stayed in Sakhalin in the 1940s and 70 percent of them, or 30,000, were males of working age.

As of last year, a total of 9,473 cases were filed for verification to the panel office and 37.3 percent of them were confirmed to be victims of Japan’s labor mobilization. Of them, 34.3 percent could not return home afterwards, while 19.4 percent were still missing and 14.9 percent were found dead.

By Lee Ji-yoon (
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Korea Herald daum