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Japanese Australians seek to block Korean 'comfort women' memorial

South Korea and Japan may have officially settled their disputes over so-called "comfort women" in 2015, but expatriate communities are involved in a bitter legal fight in Australia.

A spat between Japanese and Korean community groups in Australia over a memorial to so-called "comfort women" spilled into the jurisdiction of the country's Human Rights Commission on Thursday, following a complaint of racial vilification.

A Korean-Chinese group founded to raise awareness of Japanese war crimes in Australia installed a statue of a young girl on the grounds of a protestant church in Sydney in August after an initially receptive local council backed out following pressure from the Japanese community.

The statue was provided by a group called the Korean Committee of United Austral Korean-Chinese Alliance Against Japanese War Crimes.

A small group of about 30 people founded the Australia-Japan Community Network in 2014 to oppose the erection of memorials to "comfort women." On Thursday the group said it had lodged a complaint under Australia's controversial racial vilification laws. 

"We feel we are intimidated. We were targeted, that is for sure. The 'comfort women' statues being erected all over the world have never been a peaceful monument or commemoration for women," AJCN President Tetsuhide Yamaoka told public broadcaster ABC on Wednesday.   

"They are always used as a tool of political activities or campaigns against Japan."

Meanwhile, Si Hyun Paik, from the Peace Statue Establishing Committee, told ABC that "this is our effort to restore the honor and dignity of those girls who were abducted by Japanese military force during World War II."

'No antipathy towards Japan'

Bill Crews, a Christian minister of the Uniting Church, speaks at a press conference (picture-alliance/dpa/Yonhab)

Church minister Bill Crews said the statue was not meant to denigrate any country or race

The church's minister Bill Crews said the only change he would consider to the position of the 1.5-meter statue, which was imported from Korea, would be to display it more prominently.

"I find it very sad," Crews said of the complaint. "To me, it's about the suffering of the women. I've got no antipathy toward the Japanese people."

Under Australian law it is illegal to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" a person on the basis of "race, color or national or ethnic origin". Critics of the law argue curbs freedom of speech, the legislation is being reviewed by a parliamentary inquiry.

In December 2015 Korea and Japan agreed the issue of "comfort women" was resolved after Japan agreed to apologize and promised about one billion yen (8.10 million euros) in compensation for victims.

aw/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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