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Lee renews appeal to Japan to resolve comfort women issue

President Lee Myung-bak renewed his appeal to Japan Thursday to redress long-running grievances over the country's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, saying the issue is an urgent humanitarian matter.

Lee made the remarks during a speech at a ceremony commemorating Korea's 1919 nationwide uprising, known as the March 1st Independence Movement, against Japan's 1910 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. The colonial rule ended in 1945 at the end of World War II.

The harsh governance left deep scars on the hearts of Koreans.

During that period, Koreans were banned from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers and also as sex slaves, euphemistically called "comfort women."

"Genuine courage and wisdom are necessary more than anything else if the two countries are to work closely together as genuine partners," Lee said. "In particular, the issue of military comfort women is a humanitarian matter that should be resolved at an early date, among various pending issues."

Lee emphasized that the comfort women issue is becoming increasingly urgent as most victims, who "have lived with painful scars on their hearts for their entire lives" are well over 80 years old and may die before they receive compensation or an apology from Japan.

In December, Lee made a similarly strong-worded appeal when he held a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Lee spent most of the talks on the comfort women issue, repeatedly raising the matter without talking about economic issues, such as a possible free trade agreement between the two sides.

Tokyo has thus far ignored Seoul's demand for official talks on compensating the aging victims. Seoul has been making the demand since its Constitutional Court ruled last year it is unconstitutional for the Seoul government to make no specific efforts to settle the matter with Tokyo.

Japan maintains that all issues regarding its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including the comfort women issue, were settled in a 1965 package compensation deal under which the two countries normalized their relations. (Yonhap News)

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