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Seoul to offer talks to Japan over sex slaves

Korea considers setting up arbitration committee if Tokyo turns down proposal


Following a recent court ruling calling for specific measures to settle the issue, South Korea said it will propose talks with Japan over a proper apology and compensation for Korean women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

The Constitutional Court ruled last week that the Seoul government’s lack of concrete action on the issue was unconstitutional, and that it should work to get Japan to indemnify the women who were forced to serve the Japanese military.

Tokyo has for years glorified its wartime past in textbooks and refused to formally make amends for the so-called “comfort women,” often providing a stumbling block to mending ties with Korea, which was victim to its 1910-45 colonial rule.

“We plan to respect the Constitutional Court ruling by making this proposal soon,” an official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

If Japan accepts the proposal, it will be the first bilateral dialogue solely dealing with the comfort women issue in more than 20 years. Seoul believes there is a 50-50 chance of Japan taking up the offer.

The ministry also plans to set up a separate team working on the issue to examine measures that can be taken to solve the issue beyond diplomatic actions, the official added, asking not to be named until the measure is officially announced.

The ministry is expected to deliver the proposal via the Japanese Embassy here or the Korean Embassy in Tokyo as early as this week without elaborating on the date or the location of the proposed talks.

South Korea is also considering setting up an arbitration committee with Japan over the issue should the neighboring state turn down the proposal, according to officials.

At least 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery during World War II, according to historians.

While acknowledging the past, the Tokyo government has refused for decades to compensate the victims directly, claiming it solved the issue with Seoul via a post-war treaty in 1965, under which the Seoul government received $800 million.

South Korea says the money paid to the government is unrelated to what should be compensated for the individual victims, many of whom are dead or in old age.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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