South Korea will make utmost efforts to help relieve the pains of Korean victims of Japan's wartime sex slavery and restore their dignity, a ranking official said Friday.
Cho Tae-yul, Seoul's second vice foreign minister, made the pledge as he visited a shelter for South Korean victims of Japan's sexual slavery during World War II.
The facility, named the House of Sharing, outside Seoul, is home to 10 former sex slaves or so-called "comfort women."
Historians estimate the number of such sex slaves at about 200,000 in Asia. Currently, 53 Korean victims are alive with their average age standing at 88.
"As this year is a landmark year for the Seoul-Tokyo relations, the government will ramp up more efforts to help heal your pains and restore your dignity," Cho told a meeting with six victims of Japan's sex slaves.
The sex slavery issue has been the main impediment to improvement in the relations between Seoul and Tokyo at a time when this year marks the 50th anniversary of normalization of the diplomatic ties between the two nations.
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of Seoul's liberation from Tokyo's 1910-45 colonial rule.
In April, the two historical rivals launched the talks on the sex slavery issue, but progress has been meager as Japan has been reluctant to sincerely apologize for the issue.
"South Korea will utilize all available resources to let the global community more understand that this is also an issue of universal human rights on the top of the bilateral historic issue," he added.
Cho left a message on a visitors' book that reads that the Seoul government will do its best to help the victims regain their dignity while they are alive and not to make their courageous confession fruitless.
During the meeting with Cho, the victims spoke about their painful experiences, slamming Japan for not sincerely apologizing for its wartime atrocities.
"I want to see the Japanese government apologize for (this issue) before I die," said Yi Ok-seon, 88.
Yoo Hee-nam, 86, said that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not even blink an eye at Tokyo's horrible wartime acts.
"I hope that the Korean government will help ease our pains and sorrows before we all die by letting the issue be further known globally."
Abe has irked Seoul and Beijing, both victims of Tokyo's wartime aggression, as Japan has attempted to whitewash its past military atrocities.
Abe said last month that he would not use key words from Japan's previous apologies for its wartime atrocities in his new statement that will be issued in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the country's defeat in World War II.
The Japanese premier said that he will express remorse over Japan's role in the war, but there is a prevailing view that he will water down the spirit of past administrations' apologies.
Japan issued two key statements containing apologies for past wrongdoing -- the 1993 apology on the sex slavery issue, named the Kono Statement, and the 1995 apology for Japan's colonial rule, named the Murayama Statement.
South Korea demands that Japan show sincerity by settling the sex slave issue "in a way that is agreeable to the living victims," including through a sincere apology and compensation.
Japan has long dismissed Seoul's demands, claiming that all grievances related to its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were settled through a 1965 treaty that normalized their bilateral ties. (Yonhap)